Small Fly-Critical Appreciation

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‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book’ is a sonnet by Charles Tennyson Turner, in which the persona’s reactions to finding the remains of a fly crushed in a book are documented. The poem is addressed to the dead fly, which has left its own “fair monument” behind. The poem is a reflection on one’s responsibility to justify one’s existence, as brought out by the explicit metaphor comparing our lives to a book that will one day “close upon us”. It shares many similarities to Kevin Halligan’s ‘The Cockroach’ – both are despondent sonnets, and both use insect imagery to encapsulate the human condition. In ‘The Cockroach’, the speaker pitifully recognizes himself in the aimless insect; in ‘On Finding a Small Fly Crushed in a Book’, the speaker looks up to a dead insect, wishing to emulate it. The persona here is clearly faced by serious existential doubt, equating his finding of a small crushed fly to his imminent death and the brevity of human existence. “Our doom is ever near” he claims. The use of the ominous, echoing “doom”, stressed, suggests that the persona is deeply fearful of death. Turner’s use of caesuras after “Now thou art gone” and “ever near” in the seventh line stands out against the smoother flowing lines that precede it. The effect is that the octet ends on an abrupt note, and performs the suddenness of death. The colon after “Now thou art gone” is grammatically misplaced. Even when the preceding line is not considered, it’s clear that the fly being gone is not the cause of our imminent doom. However, the link between the two ideas is parallel to the speaker’s thought process. The “peril(s)” or dangers of life are “beside us day by day”, suggesting that death is uncertain and may occur before we know it: “the closing book may stop our vital breath”. That these perils are constantly “beside” us suggests that they are a constant, almost physical presence in our lives. The “page of death” is unspecified: it could be any page that “some hand” closes....
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