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‘The Fly’ is one of the later poems written by American poet Karl Shapiro.

This lesson will look at the poem’s use of literary devices, like simile and metaphor, and possible themes found in the poem.

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The Subject of Flies

All poems, whether traditional like this one by Karl Shapiro or more experimental in form, have some sort of subject – something that the poem is about. In the case of ”The Fly”, published in Selected Poems in 2003 (after the poet’s death in 2000), the subject is easy to identify.Almost everyone has some experience with those small flying pests that seem to be everywhere, especially in the warm weather when we want to be outdoors enjoying time with friends and family. Shapiro’s poem reminds us of a fly buzzing around, a fly sitting on our drink glass, or a fly landing annoyingly on our hand.

Summertime Pest
Hunting for Sweet Food
fly on food

Unfortunately for the fly, the poet has every intention of killing it without any remorse. Those last four lines of the fifth stanza use similes to make light of the substance of the fly. For the reader, we see how powerless and short-lived the fly really is.The first two lines of the final stanza remind us of the size issue involved; to a fly, man is certainly a huge giant and most people think of the death of a single fly as nothing of note at all.

Even many flies on a fly strip is not a sad sight; it merely means fewer pests at our party.

Fewer Pests at the Party
flypaper

The final line finishes the impression of the fly by reminding us that the dead fly is likely to be eaten by his fellow insects: a gruesome and undignified ending.

Theme

One possible theme is the view that humans tend to have about killing others. If the reader identifies with the plight of the fly, this identification might be extended to raise discussion about how we approach the killing of our fellow creatures in general.The reader might also see a theme of animal awareness.

Not that we should never kill a creature that might hurt us, but perhaps mere annoyance might not be strong enough motivation. By thinking about the fly’s life and death in such detail, perhaps we have a bit more sympathy for its natural behaviors.

Lesson Summary

Karl Shapiro was an American poet who wrote both traditional and more experimental poems. In this lesson, we looked at simile and metaphor and themes in Shapiro’s later poem ”The Fly”. Both the structure of the poem and the choice of words connects the reader to the nature of this small insect creature.

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