I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Emily Dickinson

‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ by Emily Dickinson reflects the poet’s emotions. It reveals her disdain for publicity and her preference for privacy.

Emily Dickinson

Nationality: America

Emily Dickinson redefined American poetry with unique line breaks and unexpected rhymes.

Notable works include 'Because I could not stop for Death' and 'Hope is the Thing with Feathers.' 

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Privacy is more valuable than fame

Themes: Relationships

Speaker: Usually considered to be Dickinson herself

Emotions Evoked: Confidence

Poetic Form: Ballad

Time Period: 19th Century

Emily Dickinson believed in living her life privately. This is a belief she conveys in several of her poems, including this one.

Dickinson intensely believed that the thoughts of one’s mind were meant to be kept private, or privately shared, but never sold. These ideas come through in ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?,’ as well. However, this poem reveals another side of Dickinson- the side that also wished for companionship.

Although she hated the idea of publicity, Dickinson, being still human, would have still required some form of companionship. In this poem, the speaker seems to reveal Dickinson’s feelings about finding companionship with another person. The speaker is excited to meet someone, but only because she believes that the person she is meeting is “Nobody” just like herself. This reflects Dickinson’s desire to have companionship with someone who also avoided the public eye and shared her views on the importance of privacy.

Dickinson, having lived a very reclusive life, did not seem to have many people whom she confided in and trusted. Rather, she wrote down her thoughts in the form of hundreds of poems that would not be published until after her death. This poem, however, reveals Dickinson’s desire to have relationships with other people without being forced into the public eye.

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Emily Dickinson

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!
I'm Nobody! Who are you? By Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you? Analysis

Stanza One

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!

In the first line of ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’, the speaker exclaims that she is “Nobody”. The use of the exclamation mark reveals that the speaker is actually excited to be nobody. This is ironic because the majority of people would like to be known as somebody.

Thus, it strikes the reader as somewhat odd that this speaker says that she is nobody in a voice of exclamation. She is rather excited to be “Nobody”. The second part of the first line reveals that the speaker is meeting someone else. She exclaims her identity as “nobody” to that person, and asks the person, “Who are you?”. Then, in line two, the speaker asks in a hopeful voice, “Are you- Nobody- too?”

The speaker seems to be hoping to have met another person who is also “nobody”. In line three, she exclaims, “Then there’s a pair of us!”. She is clearly excited to have met another person who claims to be nobody. The speaker then admonishes her hearer not to tell anyone about the two of them each being “nobody”, exclaiming, “They’d advertise- you know!”. This reveals that the speaker was clearly afraid of being found out. She enjoyed having no fame and no recognition, and she feared that if someone found out that she loved being “nobody” they would advertise her and make into into “somebody” and she dreaded that.

Stanza Two

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –  
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –  
To an admiring Bog!

In this stanza, the speaker explains to her hearer exactly why she does not wish to be anybody. She says that it would be “dreary-to be- Somebody”. She prefers to be left alone. She fears becoming someone “public” and describes a public person as being “like a frog”. It seems odd that the speaker would compare a public person to a frog. Perhaps this is because frogs live out in the open, resting on lily pads in ponds. Perhaps this is because frogs can be loud and will croak, reminding everyone of their presence.

For one reason or another, the speaker believes that to live hidden and quiet is better than to live out in the open, speaking loudly and drawing attention to oneself. She thus compares frogs to people who live in the public eye, or rather, are “somebody”.

The last two lines of ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’ reveal the speaker’s disgust at the idea of living her life to tell of her own name “to an admiring bog”. A “bog” describes a place in which a frog might live. This gives further insight into the speaker’s comparison of a public person to a frog. Although the frog croaks constantly, it tells of its existence only to the bog. No one seems to hear it or care that it croaks about its own existence. This is why the speaker does not wish to be known or advertised by anyone. She believes it would be as though she were telling of herself to a “bog”. No one would be there to care or listen, and she would feel as foolish as a croaking frog.

Emily Dickinson’s Connection

Emily Dickinson was most famous, ironically, for not being famous during her lifetime. Although a few of her poems were published during her lifetime, they were sent to publishers by other people, and Dickinson clearly did not appreciate her poetry being made a public spectacle. Most of her poems were not published until after her death. Her intense desire to go unnoticed makes her current fame all the more ironic. Dickinson has been described as being “somewhat agitated and intense” (Pettinger).

A friend and correspondent of Dickinson’s described her, saying to his wife, “I was never with anyone who drained my nerve power so much” (Pettinger). This demeanor is likely what caused her to be afraid of social gatherings. Dickinson was not always secluded, but the older she got, the more she refrained from the public eye. Dickinson did attend college, but after returning home, she seldom went out and was rarely seen.

This was the time period in which she wrote most of her poems. Although she secluded herself from the public eye, Dickinson still maintained contact with a few important people. This is likely the foundation of ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’. Dickinson was thrilled at the idea of having found a companion who was not in the public eye. Those whom Dickinson corresponded with were people whom she trusted not to thrust her into the public eye.

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Allisa Corfman Poetry Expert
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
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