I’m Nobody Who Are You? It is Better to be Nobody Than Somebody

Cover image featuring Emily Dickinson

All of Emily Dickinson’s poems start with a very powerful and impactful first line. This poem is no exception. A question that can make you question the poet. What does she mean that she is nobody; I’m Nobody who are you? How does Dickinson first say “I am” and then contradict it by saying “Nobody”? Here’s the poem, and its meaning.

I’m Nobody Who Are You

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us — don’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!

The meaning of the poem 

Going with brevity as the poet is fond of, the pithy meaning of the poem is chasing fame, trying to get recognized by people, and doing things you don’t want to just so that you could have someone know your name is pointless. In fact, Dickinson says that a rather opposite life of being a “Nobody”, being someone who is conspicuous from the society around is actually a great thing. 

Being a “Nobody” is not used here as a derogatory term, rather the opposite. Also, the implied meaning of nobody is not someone with no existence. Here, “Nobody” means that one is not known to the people around him/her. The “Nobody” lives happily in a small world, away from the clamor of a place where everyone knows him/her. 

Being Nobody

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

Dickinson calls herself a nobody and then asks the readers who they are. This is a brilliant line because the question itself reveals the answer. The fact that she has to ask “who are you” shows that the person she is referring to is a nobody as well. 

Then she says that both the reader and the poet are nobody and she insists on keeping this a secret. This is because if other people know about this, about them being nobody, they will banish them. Here banish does not mean what the general definition of the word is. 

Here banish means that both of them will be removed from their current state of being unknown, enjoying the peace of not being in the middle of a racking. It is best to keep their presence hidden, far away from the prying eyes of others. But why does she not want to be a well-known figure? 

I'm nobody who are you poem by Emily Dickison
I’m Nobody, Who are You by Emily Dickinson

Frog croaks in a mud pit 

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

Now we get to see why Dickinson did not want to be “somebody”. She labels it “dreary” to be a display property of the public, to be a thing rather than a being. She compares being famous to being like a frog. 

She says being famous is like saying your name, croaking all day long to an admiring bog. There is a huge piece of philosophy here that can be traced back to the times of Marcus Aurelius. 

The pursuit of fame is considered to be a fruitless endeavor, creating an illusion that it will make one happy, that your mind will be happy if someone else knows your name, and appreciates you. This is a wild goose chase since there is no such thing as that. 

To tell your name the livelong day, To an admiring bog! This means that all you have to do is the dreary task of calling your name out, letting others know what you are, and be riddled with this chore. And to whom? To a bog. A bog is a wet, muddy ground where the frogs live. And just to be famous, would you like spending all your days croaking in a mud pit?

Even Marcus Aurelius had said that why pursue fame? To live beyond your age? But the people who know you are ephemeral as well. They’ll die one day too and then soon, your fame will fade out. So why struggle and pursue fame while you miss out on a peaceful life.

In conclusion, do not associate fame with happiness. Others can be an influence on your happiness, making you smile or cry, but unless and until you are at inner peace, happy with yourself and your life, no amount of outward praise can make you happy. This concludes the article.

Why stop at one poem? Why not read more poems by Emily Dickinson? Here are some of her best poems that you should read:

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