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10 June 2012

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 advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog – 
To tell one's name – the livelong June – 
To an admiring Bog!
                                                            F260 (1861)  288

This is one of Dickinson’s most widely read poems – although it is far from her best. She may have been parodying one or more flowery poets of her day, one of whom went on at great length about heaven and earth and kings and winds and how he was nobody, thankfully, rather than “somebody.” Dickinson takes such pap and tells the story plainly.
            For me the best line is “How public – like a Frog – ”; sometimes when I hear someone puffing themselves up I think of the line and I picture the speaker croaking to “an admiring Bog.”
            The poem reflects a bit of Dickinson’s penchant for privacy. She would find it “dreary” to be an important personage. We also see a bit of her playfulness. She begins the poem by addressing some casual companion, but rather than ask for an exchange of names she just goes for the Nobody/Somebody divide. She is delighted to find her companion is, like herself, a “Nobody.” Of course, this is a bit disingenuous. As the daughter of one of Amherst’s most prominent families, Emily Dickinson was far from a nobody.


  1. Hello Susan,

    Is this poem based on Franklin's edition? I think in Johnson's edition the last line of the first stanza is in this way:

    "Don't tell! they'd banish us – you know!"

    Am I right?

  2. I'm using Franklin and, yes, Johnson's version has the 'them' banishing.

    just because it's adorable doesn't mean it's not important
    about being an outsider and meeting a person like you

  4. Why are there different versions? Did Emily originally write "they'd banish us..."?

  5. Did Emily's original version contain "banish" or "advertise"?

    1. Actually, she wrote both. "Advertise" was written as an alternative and then underlined. Perhaps that convinced Franklin that it was preferred over "banish". Here's an archival photo of the poem:

      (sorry this response is late; the site kicked your comment into the Spam folder -- perhaps because of the word "advertise" -- but who knows...

  6. Typo: You meant disingenuous …

    1. Thank you!! It took me a while to correct as I was traveling and couldn't update. This was an important correction!