‘The Thought Fox‘ has often been acknowledged as one of the most complete and artistic poems of Ted Hughes. This poem of Ted Hughes is in the first collection of poems entitled “The Hawk in the Rain’.
In other words, we can say that Ted Hughes’s poetic career began with the publication in 1057 of ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ a volume of poems which also contained a poem “The Thought Fox’.
In this poem, an abstract idea receives a concrete shape. Here a thought has been personifying as a fox: and that is why the poem has been given the title of ‘The Thought Fox’.
The significance of the Poem
The Time is midnight. It is the moment that is imagined by the poet as a forest. In other words, it seems to him that he is in a forest, though actually, he is in a room where he sits, with the clock ticking, and with a blank page on which his fingers are moving.
He is alone, and the clock tickling and his fingers moving on a blank page are the only living things, besides himself. But then it seems to him that there is something else also which is alive.
There are no stars visible to him through the window of his room, but something much nearer is moving through the darkness towards him so as to interrupt his solitude.
He perceives that a fox is coming through the forest. Then he feels that the fox’s nose has touched a twig and, next, a leaf.
As the fox moves onwards, it leaves distinct footprints on the snow between the trees in the forest. Then the poet perceives the fox continuing to move forward and, with its attention focused on one particular thing, it suddenly and abruptly enters the dark hole of his head.
Even now there are no stars to be seen in the sky through the window. The clock is still tickling. But now the page before the poet is no longer blank. (Actually, there was no fox at all.
It was just a thought which had entered the poet’s mind just as a fox enters a forest and then jumps out of it. That thought had then found expression in a poem which the poet has written on the blank page which lay before him, and on which his fingers had been moving.
The thought which entered the poet’s head has been embodied as a fox or been given the shape and the body of the fox, and that is why the poem bears the title. “The Thought Fox.’)
Poem ‘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 poem is total Imagination :
The Thought-Fox is one of the outstanding poems in the volume called “The Hawk in the Rain”. What is remarkable about this poem? The symbolic statement of the process of poetic composition, and its imagery.
There are so many series of images in the poem, from the first line to the last line of the poem and every image is bright and intense.
The opening line of the poem contains the following image: “I imagine this midnight moment’s forest.” Here the poet imagines that he sitting alone in a forest at midnight.
After that, there is the images of the ticking clock, the blank page, and the feeling that something else is also alive around the poet. There are no stars in the sky, and then the poet feels through senses that something intruding upon his loneliness.
Next, a fox’s nose touches a twig and then a leaf. The two eyes of the fox seem to be moving forward. The fox is leaving clear footprints on the snow in the forest. The imagery of the poet continues with the eye of the fox “brilliantly, concentratedly,” coming about its own business till it enters the dark hole of the head with “a sudden sharp hot stink of a fox.”
The window is starless still, the clock ticks even now, but the page is no longer blank now. There is a poem on the page written by its author in his own handwriting, even though the word “printed” has been used.
The word “printed” is not absolutely inappropriate because ultimately the poem written by its author would get printed.
There is no Appeal in the Poem :
The Thought-Fox has greatly been esteemed by critics, but it does not have much of an attraction for the reader. The idea of the poem is not concrete which the poet has tried to concretize.
The average reader, cannot understand why thought should be personified as a fox. To the popular mind, a fox represents cunning. We have all heard the story of the fox who cheated a crow of a piece of bread which the crow held in its beak.
The fox employed flattery to make the crow open its beak so that the piece of bread might fall from the beak for the fox to grab it. But in this poem, the fox has been lifting up to the rank of a poetic idea.
Nor can we declare that this poem is remarkable because of its felicity of word and phrase. The only remarkable quality of this poem is its imagery.
Comments of the Critics :
A critic expresses the view that in Hughes’s world the only way to come to terms with the animals is not to tame them but to become possessed by won and that this the what precisely happens in the poem, The Thought Fox The opinion of this critic The Thought-Fox is the finest of the five animal poems in the volume entitled “The Hawk in the Rain”.
The same critic goes on to say that, although ‘The Thought Fox’ is a fox of the imagination, it has been presented in the poem with a beautiful solid foxy reality.
Rhyme Scheme of the Poem :
In so many lines of the whole poem, the rhythm of the verse is broken by the punctuation and the line-endings, while at the same time what seemed the predictable course of the rhymes-scheme is deliberately departed from.
Both rhythmically and phonetically the verse thus mimes the nervous, unpredictable movement of the fox as it delicately steps forward, then stops suddenly to check the terrain before it runs on only to stop again.
The tracks which the fox leaves in the snow are themselves duplicated by the sounds and rhythm of the line ‘Sets neat prints into snow’. The first three short words of this line are internal half-rhymes, as awesome, as exact and as sharply outlined as the fox’s paw-marks, and these words press down gently but distinctly into the soft open vowel of ‘snow’.
The fox’s body remains indistinct, a shape against the snow. But the phrase ‘lame shadow’ itself evokes a more precise image of the fox, as it freezes alertly in its tracks, holding one front-paw in mid-air, and then moves off again like a limping animal.
At the end of the stanza the words ‘bold to come’ are left suspended-as though the fox is pausing at the outer edge of some trees. The gap between the stanzas is itself the clearing which the fox, after hesitating warily, suddenly shoots across: ‘Of a body that is bold to come Across clearings. .’
At this point in the poem, the hesitant rhythm of that single sentence which is prolonged over five stanzas breaks into a final and deliberate run.
The fox has scented safety. After its dash across the clearing of the stanza break, it has come suddenly closer, bearing down upon the poet and upon the reader :
An eye, A widening deepening greenness, Brilliantly, concentrated, Coming about its own business....