Let’s read a poem, or two. I hope you like it. It’s by Emily Dickinson, one of the greatest American poets.
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!
Guess when this poem was written? It sounds like a modern poem, right? It’s from 1861. Many poems from that time seem old-fashioned to us. Not this one. Emily Dicksinson’s poems often sound as fresh as if they were written yesterday.
I don’t know how much you know about this poet. This particular poem is often taught in high schools, because of its simple vocabulary. But as you know, when people talk in easy language it doesn’t always mean they’re simple.
Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in the small village of Amherst in northern America. She was educated well, although she didn’t go to college. In those times, women were destined to get married and take care of their families. However, Dickinson remained single all her life. She didn’t travel much, and she lived in her parents’ house. When she died, at the age of 56 of a kidney disease, it was in the same house as where she was born. Her lifestyle made her a nobody, in a sense, because women could only claim to be somebody when they got married.
Dickinson was a busy person, however. When she didn’t help her mother in the household, she took care of her nieces and nephews, tended to visitors, but mostly she wrote. During her lifetime she published only seven poems, anonymously (without her name). But after she died, another 1,775 (!) wonderful poems were found in a drawer of her writing desk.
So Dickinson wasn’t really a nobody. With that drawer full of poems that she had written already, there is no doubt that Dickinson knew her time as a nobody was going to end. From other poems and her letters we know that she consciously worked on her career as a poet. Often, she wrote a poem a day. So why would she pretend to be a nobody in the poem? Well, maybe because she liked being anonymous so she could work without distractions.
Dickinson’s poems are mostly about her inner world and her deep and intimate observations of life. She doesn’t want to be public like a frog, who sits in some swamp with other frogs who are loudly croaking all summer about nothing. This kind of life is dreary (dull and boring). If you answered yes to the second question she asked in the poem, you probably understand what she is talking about… and you could be her friend.
Here is another poem, that shows you that the poet probably had an inkling (a feeling) that she would one day be famous:
This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me–
The simple News that Nature told–
With tender Majesty
Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see–
For love of her—Sweet–countrymen–
Judge tenderly–of Me
I hope you liked this. I recommend reading more of this fascinating poet. Many of her poems are on internet, and you can find even more in Google Books.