‘The Thought Fox’ is one of Ted Hughes’s finest poems that holds a deep metaphor for the process of thought. Foxes are sly, stealthy creatures that are often semi-hidden and slinking around; a fitting image for the nature of thought before it enters one’s mind.
Like a ‘midnight moment’s forest’, the poet imagines his head as dark and still, devoid of thought at the moment. Yet, he has a feeling, almost a sixth sense that ‘something else is alive’. He is joined by the ‘clock’s loneliness’ and a ‘blank page’ upon which his fingers move restlessly, waiting for an idea to pen down. He sees ‘no star’ or light of inspiration as yet. ‘Deeper within the darkness’ a thought is buried under layers of his mind, edging ‘more near’ to consciousness and slowly ‘entering the loneliness’.
‘Cold, delicately as the dark snow’, the poet is witness to brief, tentative movements of the thought. The ‘fox’s nose touches twig’ as the first sign of display but the ‘two eyes’ only reveal and retreat in a tease.
From a vague idea, the thought leaves a more tangible, attainable trail of ‘neat prints in the snow’. Cautiously and ‘warily a lame shadow lags’. The thought seems incomplete but with the hope that it will gain momentum into a ‘body that is bold to come’. From a forest full of trees, the poet sees is able to see with more clarity ‘across clearings’ of his mind.
Then, the thought gains texture and colour like a luminescent glow of ‘deepening greenness’. The fox reveals itself ‘brilliantly, concentratedly’. Any frustration he felt before has become worth the patience. He now watches, detached, as the thought comes ‘about its business’ free from his control. Then, with a ‘sudden hot stink’ the thought ‘enters the dark hole’ and swamps his brain. In a moment, it engulfs his mind and he is able to write.
In comparison to wild adventure in his head, nothing has changed in reality; the ‘window is starless still’ and ‘the clock ticks’. The only difference is that the idea was successful as the page has been printed. Thoughts, imagination and even memories stumble through our minds before they reach prominence but why do they do so? The answer is so blatantly biological but Hughes is able to provide such accurate insight into our psyche through verse.
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