Poetry

I'm Nobody! Who Are You?

Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” is a poem that heralds the virtues of humility and lambastes the desire for worldly renown. The poem kicks off with a jaunty, though darkly comic, tone. The speaker’s first claim—“I’m nobody!”—is both an act of self-negation and a defiant stance. The question “Who are you?” draws us in, forcing us to consider and internalize the speaker’s argument. The speaker opines against the “dreary” fate of “be[ing] somebody,” of submitting one’s personality to the public sphere. Dickinson, with characteristic wit and bite, compares such a fate to that of a frog croaking its name “to an admiring bog,” a realm of stagnation. This poem may have been something of a manifesto for Dickinson, who spent much of her life as a recluse avoiding public life. “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” was first published in 1891 in Dickinson’s second posthumous collection.

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