Does the poem "I'm Nobody" by Emily Dickinson relate to her as a person?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emily Dickinson seldom left her home.  Living reclusively,  Dickinson's family members were her only real contacts with the outside world.  Of course, she devoted a great deal of her time to nature, Christianity, and her letter writing.  Still, Dickinson,  like most people, desired companionship. 

During her lifetime, Dickinson wrote almost 1800 poems.  Only seven of those poems were published while she lived.  After her death, Dickinson’s younger sister found her poems in a drawer sewn together. 

The topics of her poems were personal. Of course, Dickinson experienced loneliness and her poems reflect a longing for intimacy.  However, Dickinson was a positive person. Many of her poems address her love for life and her faith in God.

Dickinson did not give titles to her poems  but numbered all of them. Usually, the first line of the poem is used as its name. The “I'm Nobody!” has all the distinctive qualities of Dickinson’s writing. It is short but contains a clever message. She used internal rhyming and often employed dashes to give the poem a staccato effect and also to interrupt the flow of the line:

  • In this poem, the  narrator  declares  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 asks her fellow nobody 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!'

This poem was so appropriate for Dickinson because she was not famous in her lifetime. She really was a nobody except for the people who knew her in hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts.   Intending her poetry to be humorous and clever, Dickinson was equally so.  Obviously, Dickinson chose to be isolated from the world. When she indicates that it is a special group that are the nobodies, she means it.

Somebodies—for they are too busy keeping their names in circulation-- croak like frogs in a swamp in the summertime. Furthermore, she indicates that it would be boring to be a “somebody.”

Dickinson’s intuitive use of words and her placement of them in the line-- “How public—like a Frog—" befuddles the first-time reader.  She often  combined elements not typically considered together;  consequently, the poem’s  meaning provides a surprising end.  Frogs are “public” like public figures—or Somebodies—because they are constantly “telling their name."  Not the usual comparison for a politician. One wonders what she would think of being the most celebrated woman poet of her time.

Read the study guide:
I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

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