A Wounded Deer Leaps Highest Poem by Emily Dickinson Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “A wounded deer leaps highest” was written by Emily Dickinson. The poem was published posthumously in a collection named “Poems” in 1890. In this poem the poet speaks about the deceptive nature of people. So, she used the image of fatally wounded deer to indicate the hidden meaning of the poem.

About the Poet:

Emily Dickinson was an American poet. During her period she was regarded as one of the most important poets of American poetry. She had written nearly 1800 poems. Most of the poems were unpublished in her lifetime. Emily Dickinson redefined American poetry with her unique writing style.In most of her poems she used unique line breaks and unexpected rhymes. Some of her famous poems are “Because I could not stop for death”, “Success is counted sweetest”, “I’m nobody”.


The poem “A wounded deer leaps highest” consists of three stanzas. Each stanza has four lines. Thus, the poem contains twelve lines in total.


The poet has written the poem “A wounded deer leaps highest” in iambic trimeter with few variations.


The poet in this poem uses the image of a fatally wounded deer to provide a hidden meaning to the readers. The poet says, a wounded deer leaps highest instead of slowing down. In the same way, people who suffered with pain choose to portray themself as stronger in their life. In the same way, she uses the image of steel in the poem. Similar to steel which gets life when compressed with other objects, people get stronger if the situation demands. In the last stanza, the poet talks about the deceptive appearance of people. For instance the red cheek due to illness makes a person look healthy and lively. But the hidden truth is the red cheek refers to the impending death. So,the poet throughout the poem talks about how people are using their weakness as a shield to protect themselves from others.

Poem Analysis:

Stanza 1

Lines 1-4:

A wounded deer - leaps highest

I've heard the hunter tell;

'Tis but the ecstasy of death,

And then the brake is still.

The poem begins with the saying of hunter. The hunter says about a deer which has been suffering from a wound. Instead of slowing down the deer starts to leap highest. Here, the poet is trying to make a comparison between a wounded deer and people’s nature. Similar to the deer, even people have so many wounds in their life. The people may appear strong and joyful in their appearance. But it is a deceptive thing, they are trying to look happy to hide the wounds. 

Stanza 2

Lines 5-8:

The smitten rock that gushes,

The trampled steel that springs:

A cheek is always redder

Just where the hectic stings!

In the second stanza the poet alludes from the Bible.Here, the poet talks about Moses. He was instructed by God to strike the rock in Mount Horeb to provide water for the thirsty Israelites.Moses followed the instruction of God as a result when he struck the rock water started to gush out. It quenched the thirst of Israelites.

In the second line, the poet talks about trampled steel. She says that steel tramp gets life when it gets compressed by other objects. Similarly, individuals who suffer from humiliation bounce back stronger in their life. 

In the last two lines, the poet says that the red cheeks due to illness or fever look similar to the red cheeks of a healthy and happy person. The red cheeks make them look happy, but to the people who suffer from illness it refers to the impending death. Here, the poet talks about the deceptive appearance of colours in life. 

Stanza 3

Lines 9-12:

Mirth is Mail of Anguish,

In which its cautious arm

Lest anybody spy the blood

And, "you're hurt" exclaim

The term “mirth” refers to joy. Here, the poet says, people use smiles as the cautious arm to protect themselves from being wounded. Here, mirth is compared to a knight’s armour to protect him from others. So, the poet says, that one has to wear the weakness to defend themselves. The poet says that people are hiding their pain and sadness behind a smile which is deceptive in nature. In the last line, the poet says no matter how much a person has got hurt he denies to show the emotions genuinely.