Emily Dickinson, “I Am Nobody”
Approaching poetry can be intimidating. It is a form layered in symbolism and metaphor. Reading a poem can feel like putting together a puzzle, with readers asking themselves questions about the poet’s meaning throughout. But poetry is a profound literary experience that can shine a light and reveal truth and beauty about a subject. This is why each month here at Mill Pages I will exploring poetry. I’ll explore ways to read it, recommend poets, and discuss what draws me into a specific poem. There are many ways to interpret a poem and I look forward to hearing what each poem means to you as well.
For this first installment, I am choosing the first and only poem I’ve memorized, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” by Massachusetts poet, Emily Dickinson. I am drawn to Dickinson’s lyric poetry because her style is simple and direct. Even when she is concerned with dark topics such as death and mortality, her style remains accessible. She entices readers with confessions and often reveals her vulnerability within her writing.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
When I read those opening lines I feel as if Dickinson is whispering directly to me. She introduces herself and immediately attempts to identify kinship and develop a confidence with the reader. She wants to trust the reader.
There there is a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
This is my favorite line of the poem, Dickinson has established her relationship with the reader and cautions for safety. She doesn’t want to have her confidence betrayed nor does she want to lose her newfound companion. This is also the first indication that there is a separate group of people from who Dickinson and, presumably the reader, feel alienated from.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
The second quatrain concerns the second group, the Somebodies. Along with her fear of this group, Dickinson also pities and chaffs at them. For Dickinson, famously recluse, this is often interpreted to be referring to shying away from publication or fame. On a larger level, however, Somebodies can be interpreted to be celebrities, authorities, bullies, attention-seekers, or even just the local gossips, croaking their name or accomplishments to the murky, potentially empty bog of an audience. It conveys a universal feeling of being left out of a group.
For Dickinson and the other Nobodies, the preferance is to be left alone to work quietly and form kinships with other like-minded individuals. I hope every Nobody reading this finds another Nobody to whipser to.
Similar Poets to Discover
- Anne Carson, Short Talks
- Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems
- William Carlos Williams, The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1: 1909-1939
Katelyn Varley writes poetry and prose. When not engaging in wordplay, she teaches swimming to all ages. She graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA with a degree in History. She lives in Ayer, MA with her partner, two dogs, and a cat. Find her on Twitter @HistKB.