A Burdock twitched my gown
Not Burdock's – blame – but mine
Who went too near the Burdock's Den –
A Bog affronts my shoe.
What else have Bogs to do –
The only Trade they know
The splashing men?
'Tis Minnows – should despise –
An Elephant's calm eyes
Look further on!
F289 (1862) 229
David Preest writes that “Emily sent this poem to her brother, prefaced by the words, ‘Austin – Father said Frank Conkey – Touched you.’
Thomas Johnson in his Variorum edition explains that Edward Dickinson and Frank Conkey were political opponents: Emily’s father was a traditional Whig and Frank Conkey a new, up-to-date Whig. Her father had presumably told Emily that Austin was becoming affected (i.e., “touched”) by Conkey’s new style political views.” Austin was clearly letting the new guy rattle him.
|Stickery burdock seed heads|
With the above in mind, we see that that pesky Conkey fellow is the sticky burdock. But one can’t blame the burdock for latching on and ruining your gown. That’s its nature! Same with the bog. One can’t blame a bog for wrecking one’s shoe if one is foolish enough to wander into it. The connotations here are quite negative. Conkey is obviously the bog here, his only “Trade” is splashing his benighted political view on those who come too close.
It’s only the little fish, Dickinson needles, who get angry at bog and burdock. If one takes the larger view, looks with “An Elephant’s calm eyes” (and perhaps this is a witty reference to their taciturn father), then everything can be taken in stride.