1 I'm Nobody! Who Are You: Analysis of Dickinson's Poem
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I'm Nobody! Who Are You?
A Poem by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Theme
Text
Meter
End Rhyme
Internal Rhyme
Satire
Engaging the Reader
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Biography
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2011.

Type of Work

“I'm Nobody! Who Are You?” is a lyric poem on the folly of seeking fame. The poem contains only two stanzas, each with four lines. A four-line stanza is called a quatrain. The poem was first published in 1891 in Poems, Series 2, a collection of Miss Dickinson's poems that was edited by two of her friends, Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Theme

“I'm Nobody! Who Are You?” presents the theme that it is better to be a humble nobody than a proud somebody. After all, somebodies have to spend their time maintaining their status by telling the world how great they are. How boring!

Text of the Poem

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of usdon't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
 
Meter

.......Except for the first line, the poem alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, as the second stanza demonstrates.

........1................2.............3...............4
How DREAR..|..y TO..|..be SOME..|..bod Y!

......1................2...............3
How PUB..|..lic, LIKE..|..a FROG

......1................2..................3................4
To TELL..|..your NAME..|..the LIVE..|..long DAY

....1............2.............3
To AN..|..ad MI..|..ring BOG!

The meter of the first line varies because the stressed and unstressed syllables do not follow a single pattern.

End Rhyme

The poem has no regular scheme of end rhyme. However, line 1 rhymes with line 2 and line 5 with line 7. Each of these rhymes is masculine. Masculine rhyme occurs when only the final syllable of one line rhymes with the final syllable of another, as in you and too (lines 1 and 2). There are no feminine rhymes in the poem. Feminine rhyme occurs when the final two syllables of a line rhyme with the final two syllables of another line, as in singing and ringing.





Internal rhyme

Dickinson also uses internal rhyme in the poem. Here are examples.

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of usdon't tell! (lines 1-3)

To tell your name the livelong day (line 7)

Satire

The poem satirizes glory seekers as well as their admiring fans. One wonders what Dickinson would say about glory seekers in today's worldthe movie stars, athletes, politicians, lawyers, and others who regularly show up on television to toot their horns before admiring audiences. To be sure, many famous people past and present deserve recognition. But there are just as many who seek and gain recognition for trivial pursuits by croaking their names, "like a frog . . . the livelong day." 

Engaging the Reader

Dickinson brings the reader into the poem with her use of the pronouns you, we, us, and your. This approach enhances the appeal of the poem, making you feelironicallylike "somebody" (or at least a worthwhile nobody).

Figures of Speech

Alliteration

Then there's (line 3) 
They'd banish us, you know (line 4)
How dreary to be somebody (line 5)
How public, like a frog (line 6)
To tell your name the livelong day (line 7)
Anaphora
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog (lines 5-6)
Simile
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
Comparison of the speaker's listener/reader to a frog.

Study Questions and Writing Topics

  • Was Emily Dickinson a nobody during her lifetime? Explain your answer.
  • The phrase "admiring bog" (line 8) represents the people who look up to a somebody. What is a bog? 
  • Why does Emily Dickinson choose a frog to represent a somebody?
  • Would you like to become famous? If so, what would you do to avoid becoming a "frog"?

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