“I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (260)
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
by Emily Dickinson
In I’m Nobody! Who are you? Dickinson reveals her desire for anonymity. She is not suggesting that she is worthless or invisible; she avers that her privacy is a luxury. Dickinson lived a very reclusive life, saving her literary voice for her nearly 1,800 poems and personal correspondences.
Dickinson uses a playful tone for a subject that some would consider to be doleful. Who wants to be a Nobody? Nobody! Yet in the first stanza, she identifies the reader as such. However, now as a pair of nobodies, the purpose is defeated. How can they stay unknown?
These two, four-line stanzas are written in typical ABCB rhyme scheme meter for Dickinson. Like the Psalms, she uses a combination of iambic meter, trimeter and tetrameter. However, true to her unique style, she interposes long, rhythmic em dashes in order to interrupt the meter and stress her own feelings within a universal, homiletic truth.
For example, in the second stanza, How dreary – to be – Somebody! catches the reader of guard as the world teaches us how important it is to be Somebody; to be recognized, to be known, to be a celebrity. Dickinson’s contrasting opinion of this public life is stated in the next line: How public – like a Frog – as they must croak their names loudly, repetitiously, and annoyingly amid the other Somebodies! The result: living in a Bog, in the muck and mire of life, being pulled down by the weight of celebrity with a new Somebody constantly taking their place. Ironically, as a Nobody Dickinson is one of the most celebrated and recognized poets of all time.
Dickinson’s aphoristic style of compressing a great deal of meaning into a few words is so impressive. In fact, my blog of 400 words doesn’t even begin to unveil the intricate meaning and nuances of this poem of just 46 words. This is why her poems of arresting lyrics and fanciful ideality cannot just be read; they must be ingested.
Dickinson, Emily. “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” In Poems and Other Writings. New York: Library of America, 2000. Print. 238.
Copyright 2017 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
Further Readings of Emily Dickinson Poem’s
- “Hope is a thing with feathers”
- “A Precious mouldering pleasure ‘t is” (French version)
- “I would not paint a picture”