Flies

Alice Oswald

copyright ©Alice Oswald 2016

This is the day the flies fall awake mid-sentence
and lie stunned on the windowsill shaking with speeches
only it isn’t speech it is trembling sections of puzzlement which
break off suddenly as if the questioner had been shot

this is one of those wordy days
when they drop from their winter quarters in the curtains and sizzle as they fall
feeling like old cigarette butts called back to life
blown from the surface of some charred world

and somehow their wings which are little more than flakes of dead skin
have carried them to this blackened disembodied question

what dirt shall we visit today?
what dirt shall we re-visit?

they lift their faces to the past and walk about a bit
trying out their broken thought-machines
coming back with their used-up words

there is such a horrible trapped buzzing wherever we fly
it’s going to be impossible to think clearly now until next winter
what should we
what dirt should we

Notes on the Poem

Many vital aspects of Alice Oswald's 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize winning collection Falling Awake seem to intersect in the poem "Flies". Let's take a look ... For starters, quite literally, the collection's title could come from the poem's singular opening lines: "This is the day the flies fall awake mid-sentence and lie stunned on the windowsill shaking with speeches" To "fall awake" counter-intuitively might suggest attentive meditation and mindfulness. With the titular creatures of this poem, that they are doing so "mid-sentence" and are "shaking with speeches" signifies an intriguing anthropomorphism that has been noted in other selections from this collection. As the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize judges mused in their citation for Falling Awake, "In these poems ... one wonders about the problem of being bound to place, to anything at all." Similarly, a blogger named Alice gives a close and enthusiastic analysis of this poem that circles around the notion that the flies (who are us) and their "trapped buzzing" are connected to being too bound to our past. In Catherine Graham's insightful conversation with Alice Oswald for The Toronto Review of Books, Graham encourages Oswald to expand on the process that resulted in "Flies", and here is her fascinating answer:
"I think my theme is often unfinishedness. I like the feeling that the universe isn’t finished. I believe in the future, I’m not a determinist. I believe that things are open ended and have not yet happened. And that poem is particularly about that because if you’ve ever listened to flies, they do that, they just cut off. They endlessly stop mid-sentence. So I tend to try, when I’m using free or freed verse, whatever you want to call it, I quite often take on the form of whatever I’m describing. So if I’m really concentrating on flies then, I start to speak fly language which cuts off mid-sentence. That’s why that poem does that."
As readers venture through Falling Awake, they will likely find more selections referencing the features and themes encapsulated in this particular poem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *