Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | Study Guide

Emily Dickinson

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Poems of Emily Dickinson (Selected) | I'm Nobody! Who are you? | Summary

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Summary

In this two-stanza poem in ballad meter, the speaker announces she is a "Nobody." Then, having ascertained her silent addressee is another "Nobody," she counsels not to "tell" they are two nobodies so they can avoid attention. The speaker is glad not to be a "Somebody," or someone who seeks attention, finding such status too "public" and, "like a Frog," croaking to assumed admirers she continually would have to reveal herself to others.

Analysis

This short, playful poem reflects the speaker's desire to remain anonymous and her distaste for both public attention and those who seek it. A "Nobody" is someone who keeps to herself, whereas a "Somebody" is someone who wants public acclaim. The frog simile is striking, for frogs do in fact make a lot of noise. The metaphor of society as "an admiring Bog" continues the frog simile and reflects a satiric slap at those who value noise and show above substance.

As in "The Soul selects her own Society—" the speaker limits her choice of companionship, and in this case avoids those like the attention-seeking "Somebody," whether that "Somebody" be writers or other public-minded individuals. In fact, in line 4 the speaker asks the individual addressed to remain silent about their being "a pair" of nobodies, for outside communication might bring them unwanted attention ("they'd advertise").

Although the tone is light the thought is serious. Indeed, when considering Dickinson's life readers can readily connect the speaker and the poet who deliberately chose anonymity. Like the speaker Dickinson wished to remain anonymous during her life, unwilling for her work to be published and thereby exposed to an audience whose understanding might have proved as shallow as the croaking frog seeking attention from "an admiring Bog." Dickinson's writing is often secret, oblique, figurative, enigmatic, and not at all meant for public display—and that is how Dickinson wanted it to remain. The implied comparison between her own private self and those who seek public attention leads her to poke fun at the "Somebody" who craves recognition, who tells "one's name—the livelong June—" like a frog croaking all summer to an audience of like-minded individuals. The implication, too, is the loftier status of a worthy "Nobody" is incomprehensible to an unworthy "Somebody," who must spend considerable time proclaiming their importance.

Although the second stanza generally follows Dickinson's typical use of ballad meter, the meter in the first stanza deviates at several points: the first and third lines are shorter, and the fourth line is longer, giving the beginning of the poem a more conversational, informal feeling. The rhyme scheme is AABA in the first stanza, with full rhyme in the first two lines and slant rhyme in the fourth. The full rhyme of the first two lines emphasizes the air of playfulness and contributes significantly to the light tone. The second stanza follows an ABCB pattern. Dashes slow the motion of the poem, serving as momentary interruptions.

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