PoetryTed Hughes

Exploring “The Thought Fox” by Ted Hughes

4 Mins read

“The Thought Fox” is a poem of 24 lines divided into 6 stanzas. The title tells the reader that the poet is drawing an analogy between a thought—particularly, on this case, a poetic composition—and a fox.

The poet speaks within the first person and in his own persona. He begins by evoking the silence and suspense of a forest at midnight. An environment of suspense is created as one turns into aware of “something else” that’s alive within the imaginary forest outside. The world of the forest is set in opposition to the world of the room where the poet is working, characterised solely by the presence of a clock and the poet’s as but blank paper.

The second stanza intensifies the suspense. The poet shifts his perspective, taking the reader’s consciousness outside the room as he seems to be via the window into the black, starless night time. The “something” is approaching, starting to solidify out of the darkness. The third stanza provides the primary tangible sense of the creature within the form of the fox’s cold nose investigating the encircling twigs and leaves.

Read About: Animal Imagery in Ted Hughes Poetry

The poet introduces the fox into the reader’s sensory subject in elements: a nose, then two eyes, because the fox stealthily strikes between the trees of the silent, snowbound forest, then the entire body as it flashes throughout clearings. The fox in its literal sense as a fox is totally realized by the fifth stanza; it’s

Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business.”

The last stanza is a sudden and surprising transition again to the fox as a metaphor for thought.

“With a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.”

The reader is reminded that, though the poet has offered a vivid image of a fox, he was on a regular basis evaluating it with the artistic process. Like the fox within the darkness of the forest, a thought begins within the unconscious thoughts as an obscure sense. As it rises to the acutely aware stage of the thoughts, it turns into more and more concrete and particular, till it lastly “enters the dark hole of the head” as a conscious, coherent thought.

The reader is brought back again to the poet’s room with a reference to the window, “starless still.” One senses the unbounded, un-created actuality that underlies individualized creation, unchanged and undiminished by the ever altering manifestations that emerge from it. The ticking of the clock brings one again from the timeless world of the creativeness to the world of time and space. “The page is printed” states that the thought has taken its last form—because the very poem that’s before the reader. The poet has witnessed the act of his personal poetic creation. Thus the poem is reflexive; it’s a poem about its personal composition.

Ted Hughes extends his central metaphor of fox-as-thought with great ability. Although the fox is symbolic of poetic creation, the reader is able to preserve a robust sense of it as a “real” fox. Even when Hughes is conveying abstract concepts, he makes use of exact element and concrete sensory pictures from the natural world.

Hughes typically makes use of sturdy contrasts to convey his notion of nature as interacting opposites: life and death, gentle and dark, predator and prey. The major distinction on this poem is between the extreme vitality of the creativeness and the impersonal emptiness of the poet’s self and atmosphere. The unidentified “something else” within the forest appears more actual, extra alive than something within the room. More human feeling is accorded to the clock in its “loneliness” than to the poet. He is outlined in negatives, in absent phrases. There is a disembodied quality to the picture of the blank notepaper “where my fingers move,” as if the fingers had a life of their very own and have been appearing independently.

Read About: Critical Analysis of “Hawk Roosting” by Ted Hughes

The abstract phenomenon of the artistic process is made right into a living creature of independent will. “Something more near” than the starless night time, but “deeper within darkness,” solidifies out of the blackness. This obvious contradiction, of one thing being real but elusive, is descriptive of an thought at its genesis. One is conscious of the thought’s existence, but it has not yet gained adequate definition for one to understand it. The environment of suspense relaxes into the primary concrete sensory pictures of the fox—the cold contact of its nose, then “two eyes”—because the fox edges cautiously into imaginative and prescient. In the beats of


And again now, and now,”

and the three consecutive sturdy stresses of “sets neat prints,” one hears the rhythm of the fox’s tentative steps.

Hughes typically makes use of alliteration and assonance so as to add an incantatory quality to his verse and to convey images to life. In the alliteration of “touches twig, leaf,” one feels the delicacy of the fox’s nose investigating its atmosphere. The sturdy sounds of

“Of a body that is bold to come
Across clearings,”

along with the positioning of “Across clearings” in the beginning of a new stanza, gives a sense of sudden power because the fox emerges into the open.

The most memorable picture forms the poem’s climax:

“With a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.”

The fox has realized its symbolic standing as metaphor for thought. The thought fills the expectant emptiness that has been the poet’s consciousness till now. The picture is extremely violent, evoking velocity, flavor, temperature, and smell.

Two images introduced on the poem’s starting and repeated on the finish mirror its round journey: from the on a regular basis world, into the imaginative world, then again into the on a regular basis world enriched by the gift of the creativeness, the poetic composition. The picture of the still-ticking clock, echoing the third line of the poem, remembers one to the world of time and space into which creation manifests. “The window is starless still,” additionally a repeated picture, brings one back full circle to the unchanging eternity that preceded the approaching of the thought fox and continues undiminished after the event. “The page is printed”—referring to the page one has studied — resolves the central metaphor. The thought fox has discovered its achievement within the completed poem.

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