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The Thought-Fox

The Thought-Fox

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Just like Denny Bradbury in her new collection of poems “De-versify”, where she draws upon her love of the Dorset countryside and writes often about the wisdom and mystical powers of nature and animals, the rural landscape of Hughes’ youth in Yorkshire exerted a lasting influence upon on his work. To read his poetry, is to enter into a world dominated by nature and especially by animals and the Thought-Fox, in his collection The Hawk in the Rain, is often been acknowledged as one of the most completely artistically satisfying of  all the poems in his first collection.  As Denny does in her poem “Hare in the Moonlight”,  as seen below, Hughes also illustrates the conflict between violence and tenderness.

“Hare in the moonlight
Staring at stars

Hare in the morning
Hiding in grass

Hare at his boxing
Playing around

Hare with her babies
Wisdom abounds

Hare caught in trap
Set cruelly by man

No escape for her
Try as she can….”

The Thought-Fox is a poem about writing a poem – when the poet senses a presence outside, it is not just an actual presence of an animal he is picking up on, but the stirring of an idea within his imagination that is causing him to be restless. At first the idea has no clear outlines – not seen but felt – and it is the task of the poet to coax the idea out. These beginnings of a poem are compared to the stirrings of an animal – a fox, whose body is invisible but who feels its way forward nervously through the darkness.

As Denny does in her poem “Seagull takes the Biscuit”, where she changes the rhythm of her stanzas during the course of the poem:

“Seagull sweeps in across the leaden  sky
There are rich pickings here for him to try…

Seagull is canny wise as owl his eyes are full of light
When he descends on promenade….”

Hughes breaks the rhythm of his verse by his use of punctuation and line-endings in his third and fourth stanza, to mimic the unpredictable nature of the fox’s movements and as the fox gets closer so the language and punctuation of the poem reflects this as the fox shoots off into his lair.

The question is raised – did the fox exist at all or is it merely a metaphor for the creation of a new poem that the poet is finally able to write, having coaxed the idea from the depths of his imagination:

“…The window is starless still, the clock ticks,
The page is printed.”