Emily Dickinson's Poem #260 (288) "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" (Analysis)

Analysis of Emily Dickinson's 260 (288) I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830 and died on May 15, 1886 at the age of fifty-five. She was an introvert, who did not venture outside of her home and garden. The majority of her friendships were maintained through correspondence. Emily began writing poetry when she was young, but never desired to publish it; instead, she would make manuscripts of her poems for herself and send poems to her friends in her letters. A few of the poems that she mailed to her friends ended up being published in newspapers anonymously. In poem 260 (288), Emily shares her view on fame.

Emily Dickinson's 260 (288) I'm Nobody! Who are you? (text)

The first line of the poem "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" is a very powerful statement. She is saying that she is just like everybody else and the exclamation point indicates that she is very proud of that. This first statement also indicates that she knows and likes who she is. She then goes on to ask if you know who you are-how do you define yourself? Do you think that your poems will be better if they were published? A real poet doesn't need to have their work published or have fans, because once you start writing for other people you stop writing for yourself and you lose what once made your work special-you. She goes on to ask "Are you-Nobody-too?" She wants to know if you are like her-a poet, who writes for the love of it and not for the fame. The dashes in this poem serve to interrupt the flow of the poem, so that you will have to slow down and really take in what it is that she is trying to say. In line three, it becomes apparent that she has determined that the person she is talking to is like her and she exclaims "then there's a pair of us!" She then goes on to warn her companion: "Don't tell! They'd advertise-you know!" If they told then that would mean that they want recognition and in fact don't want to be Nobodies. Emily is saying that what they have is special and that they don't want to ruin it by letting others in on their "secret club" of real poets.

Emily continues by saying "How dreary-to be-Somebody!;" dreary meaning sad, dismal, or gloomy. According to Emily, fame is the worst thing that could happen to somebody. Being famous creates an obligation to one's fans; you have to please the fans in order to stay famous and pleasing fans means that you are no longer writing for yourself or for the mere love of writing. She ends the poem with a metaphor about fame: "How public-like a Frog-/To tell one's name-the livelong June-/To an admiring Bog!" The Frog is the famous Somebody, and the admiring bog represents the fans. Bog is defined as a wet, spongy, poorly drained, and usually acid ground; Emily uses the image of a bog here to show that having the admiration of fans is not worth it, because they will only lessen you. If they published their poems then they would become famous and being famous means that you would have keep introducing yourself to the public so that they don't forget you. Fame is like a catch-22: if you don't keep you name in circulation than you no longer matter, but by always keeping yourself in circulation you run the risk of creating sub-par poetry and thus diminishing your fame.

Analysis of Emily Dickinson's 260 (288) I'm Nobody! Who are you? (sources)

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