poems sent from dickinson to austin dickinson

Thomas Johnson's Note on Poem 229

MANUSCRIPTS: The copy reproduced above (Bingham 85) is incorporated in a note which ED wrote her brother Austin in 1861. It begins:

Austin -

Father said Frank Conkey -
touched you -

The poem follows and the note is signed "Emily -." Ithamar Francis Conkey, a lifelong resident of Amherst, was some six years older than Austin. He too practiced law, and from 1856 until his death in 1875 he was District Attorney for the Northwestern district of Massachusetts. Though he served in a multitude of town functions and on honorary committees with Edward Dickinson, there was a real political rivalry in their relationship. Edward Dickinson was a "straight" Whig in a period when "republican" Whigs considered "straight" Whigs out-of-date. Edward Dickinson was disturbed that Austin was becoming "touched" by the new republican brand. The poem seems to express ED's political sympathies, certainly to the extent that they line themselves in local or family loyalties. The poem was placed in packet 92 (Bingham 77d) about 1864:

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 art they know
The splashing Men?

'Tis Minnows - should despise -
An Elephant's calm eyes
Look further on.

6. art] Trade

The first line is a variant reading as is the eleventh, and she seems to have thought that "Trade" - as she had originally written - was a better word choice than "art." Note that in the later version she has omitted the personalized plea in the copy to Austin: the last line of the second stanza.

PUBLICATION: BM (1945), 73. It follows the text of the packet copy; the suggested change is rejected.

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Commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
Maintained by Lara Vetter <lvetter@uncc.edu>
Last updated on February 25, 2008