Poem 165 is amazing, if only for the startling masochism that runs through the poem like a cold undercurrent in a warmer river. "A Wounded Deer-leaps highest-" The startling combination of words are assemblied with Dickinson's nearly scientific exactness. The Wounded Deer wouldn't sound quite right; A renders the Deer more unique and singular. "I've heard the Hunter tell-" It's as if this is a piece of juicy gossip that Dickinson is sharing with the reader. Oh, you'll never guess what I heard from the Hunter! Dickinson spend much time in the Amherst woods, and we have little reason to believe that he didn't actually hear this piece of information from an actual hunter. Note the Germanic capitalizations. Then comes the punchline: "'Tis but the Ecstasy of death-" Dickinson had a taste for the inappropriate or taboo. Many of her letters reveal a dark and callous sense of humor. We can imagine her dropping this tidbit in conversation. Notice how it lands with a thud in the poem. You'll never guess what I heard from the Hunter about the Ecstasy of death! "'Tis but" seems more amusing each time we read the poem. "And then the Brake is still!" The life of the animal is reduced to a mechanics. One imagines the screeching brake of a locomotive here- this is especially startling for a devoutly religious writer like Dickinson.
The Smitten Rock that gushes! Again, the wording is wry. But, notice the koan-like simplicity of her writing. How else to describe a blood-soaked rock in four words? Again, it's a grim EC Comics joke she's getting at. The trampled Steel that springs! There's a joie de vie here- we can see the steel snare snapping into action. Notice how it is the snare that is assaulted! Similarly, the rock gushes blood, not the beast that smashed into it. We can imagine these things happening in reverse. "A Cheek is always redder/ Just where the Hectic stings!" Suddenly, we're in the bedroom of the Marquis de Sade. Camille Paglia calls Dickinson Madame de Sade because of lines like this. A hectic is a sort of whip. The cheek is redder with life and sensation because of the pain. Notice how the poem begins to be about her identification with a hunted deer.
"Mirth is the mail of anguish" At first, this line seemed a bit self-pitying to me. One theme in the poem is about covering up or hiding pain. But, when we think of mail as armor, it starts to become clear that this is something that preserves or protects anguish. The Cautious Arm their anguish in order to hide it, but also to squirrel it away and protect it. The suffering is treasured here in a way that only ascetics and flagellants could understand. "Lest anybody spy the blood/ And "you're hurt" exclaim!" But, the only one exclaiming is the author. Again, part of this section seems to come from a martyr complex. Until we realize that the concerned bystander is an annoyance to Dickinson. She wants to hold on to her suffering. The poem is astounding for how unconcerned she is with how it will come across. It's simply shocking. Dickinson only cares that it is correct in rythym, tempo and meter. Alas, it is. How many poets can still write so correctly, and yet so fearlessly?