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Dickinson’s Poetry

Emily Dickinson

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“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?”

Summary

The speaker exclaims that she is “Nobody,” and asks, “Who are you? / Are you— Nobody—too?” If so, she says, then they are a pair of nobodies, and she admonishes her addressee not to tell, for “they’d banish us—you know!” She says that it would be “dreary” to be “Somebody”—it would be “public” and require that, “like a Frog,” one tell one’s name “the livelong June— / To an admiring Bog!”

Form

The two stanzas of “I’m Nobody!” are highly typical for Dickinson, constituted of loose iambic trimeter occasionally including a fourth stress (“To tell your name—the livelong June—”). They follow an ABCB rhyme scheme (though in the first stanza, “you” and “too” rhyme, and “know” is only a half-rhyme, so the scheme could appear to be AABC), and she frequently uses rhythmic dashes to interrupt the flow.

Commentary

Ironically, one of the most famous details of Dickinson lore today is that she was utterly un-famous during her lifetime—she lived a relatively reclusive life in Amherst, Massachusetts, and though she wrote nearly 1,800 poems, she published fewer than ten of them. This poem is her most famous and most playful defense of the kind of spiritual privacy she favored, implying that to be a Nobody is a luxury incomprehensible to the dreary Somebodies—for they are too busy keeping their names in circulation, croaking like frogs in a swamp in the summertime. This poem is an outstanding early example of Dickinson’s often jaunty approach to meter (she uses her trademark dashes quite forcefully to interrupt lines and interfere with the flow of her poem, as in “How dreary— to be—Somebody!”). Further, the poem vividly illustrates her surprising way with language. The juxtaposition in the line “How public—like a Frog—” shocks the first-time reader, combining elements not typically considered together, and, thus, more powerfully conveying its meaning (frogs are “public” like public figures—or Somebodies—because they are constantly “telling their name”— croaking—to the swamp, reminding all the other frogs of their identities).

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