Text of the Poem
I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us—don't tell!
They'd banish—you know!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Dickinson’s use of “admiring” is clever, for the word carries a secondary meaning. “Admire” comes from the Latin “mirari”—“to wonder.” Admire also contains “mire,” from the germanic “myr,” meaning “bog.” In its verb form, “to mire” is to ensnare someone, to involve someone in difficulties or misdoings the way a bog might physically trap someone. We can then read the “admiring bog” as also the “miring bog.” To want to be “somebody,” to show oneself off to the world, is to become mired.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
The image of the bog completes the frog metaphor introduced two lines prior. By characterizing the public audience as “an admiring bog,” the speaker devalues it. A bog, after all, is a section of spongy land, full of stagnant water and decaying matter. The idea is that any attempts at self-aggrandisement or posterity one might throw to the world will end up in a bog—going nowhere, rotting.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
The phrase “livelong day” dates back to as early as the 15th century. It is a metaphorical expression which indicates a day that feels as long as a lifetime. On one level, Dickinson uses the phrase for its playful, musical tone, in keeping with the rest of the poem. On another level, Dickinson uses the phrase’s two temporal registers. While a frog might croak to a bog for a day, the deeper meaning of the poem—the desire for popularity and recognition—is a theme that plays out over the course of a life.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
This line, with its internal rhyme between “name” and “day”—the words which fall on the second and fourth stresses—has a songlike tone. This quality is in keeping with the content of the line: the notion of tirelessly announcing oneself to the world.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
The word “dreary,” with its connotations of melancholy and boredom, is in stark contrast to the poem’s jaunty tone. The lively meter, quick pace, and exclamations all serve to counteract the “dreariness” of “be[ing] somebody.”— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
This line contains a jolting pause in the middle. According to the stanza’s established meter, this line ought to contain three beats, carried on three iambs. The dash at the center of the line stands where a stressed syllable ought to. The result is a lurching halt, a blank space that perhaps represents the banishment the line addresses.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
The question “Who are you?” grabs us at the outset, implicating us in the process of self-definition. Though the speaker is “nobody,” the speaker has a definition through such negation. We, the readers, have no definition. “I’m nobody! Who are you?” is a moral poem in the sense that Dickinson’s speaker has a clear position on the question of self-definition and self-aggrandisement, and challenges the reader to take a position as well.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
The poem’s opening line establishes its unique, ironic tone. Though the speaker admits to being “nobody,” there is a tone of cheerfulness, as the exclamation point underscores. While the poem’s theme—the pointless pursuit of renown—is serious, Dickinson relates the theme through an ironic tone that combines lightness with self-negation.— Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff