The Thought Fox

Powerful Essays
Topics: Poetry
‘The Thought Fox’ and the poetry of Ted Hughes

RICHARD WEBSTER

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The Critical Quarterly, 1984

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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.

THE ‘THOUGHT-FOX’ HAS often been acknowledged as one of the most completely realised and artistically satisfying of the poems in Ted Hughes’s first collection, The Hawk in the Rain. At the same time it is one of the most frequently anthologised of all Hughes’s poems. In this essay I have set out to use what might be regarded as a very ordinary analysis of this familiar poem in order to focus attention on an aspect of Hughes’s poetry which is sometimes neglected. My particular interest is in the underlying puritanism of Hughes’s poetic vision and in the conflict between violence and tenderness which seems to be directly engendered by this puritanism.

‘The thought-fox’ is a poem about writing a poem. Its external action

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