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The Thought Fox Ted Hughes Analysis

The Thought Fox Poem by Ted Hughes

Looking for who has written the poem The Thought Fox? The answer is Ted Hughes. This poem is about the composition of the poem itself; in this poem, the poetry manifests itself in an apparent form. Ted Hughes and his ‘Fox,’ which is poetry in a sense, let others know about a poet’s night. While others in the world do not bother about the ‘midnight clock’, a poet’s mind is always wandering. The Thought Fox by Hughes is a perfect embodiment of the answer to every individual who asks how to write a poem! Go through this poem, and you will enjoy it. Analyse the poem, and you will love the composition and the aesthetic qualities of the poem.

The Thought Fox Analysis

Today, I will be telling you about this poem. I remember to have taught this to my friends when we had ‘The Thought Fox’ in our syllabus during the Masters in English Literature. On that particular time, though I could hit it that it’s about the composition of the poem itself, I could not explore the other possible dimensions the’ fox’ might be hinting. I will go through all those today.
The plain paraphrasing of The Thought Fox:
The first stanza by Ted Hughes in the poem is
“I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Besides the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.”

Things are crystal clear. The poet, like most of the poets, is waking in the midnight. He realizes that not only him, there is something else lingering. (That is poetry!) He imagines a forest in the midnight. His fingers are moving on the blank page. He has sat to compose a poem. Ted Hughes suggests that any poem starts with imagination. First you write the poem in your mind, and then it descends to the page.
The second stanza is
“Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:”

Now the poet is entering into his imagination. Hughes hints that you have to live in your thoughts or the imagination. (One ardent follower of English poetry can remember S T Coleridge here.) The poet has reached near the forest and he can feel the presence of something near to him. That thing is setting apart the loneliness in that dense darkness.

The third stanza moves like
“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”

Continuing his journey, Ted Hughes moves further deeper into his imagination. Now the fox appears on the scene. In the third stanza and next, the poet gives you a close-up of the imagination’s height! He highlights the coldness of the fox’s nose; he marks its movements and the alert eyes.

The fourth stanza just adds up to the third:
“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”

This stanza carries on the poet’s imagination. The fox moves amid the darkness of the forest. The footprints leave their marks on the snow. A shadow is following the movements of this fox. (Later you will know that this lame shadow is a poet’s capacity of capturing the imagination.)

Coming to the stanza fifth
“Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business”

All about the process of making something appear on the page from one’s imagination… The appearance of the fox is about to be printed on the page of the poet. (In the next stanza, it happens.) And moving to the last stanza of the poem The Thought Fox by Hughes,
“Till, with 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.”

So, the page is printed now. Poet’s imagination has taken him to a dark forest. Now he is back to his bedroom and can listen to the ticking of the clock. Ted Hughes very beautifully describes that in spite of being in the tedium of life, you can move to places with your imagination and have your blank papers printed with beautiful imagery!

The Thought Fox critical approach to the poem:

Do you need to know more? If you view the poem with a critical sense, a close reading will put you in a confrontation with the real idea of Ted Hughes. Let me make things easy for you. The ‘Fox’ in the poem is poetry! I welcome the criticism from enthusiasts to counter my perception about the poem. However, only because the poet is behind this fox, follows it in the greenery of the dark forest, scrutinizes its footprints in the snows and prints it on his paper, I have come to infer like this! One can say it that Ted Hughes is very simply explaining the art of writing poetry. However, not only that, the poet is also hinting that ‘the dark hole of the head’ in every poet is always wandering. It can transcend the tick-tick of the clock, the silence of the midnight, the loneliness of life or the rush of this world. The eyes of the fox, that is the motivation behind the poetry guides the poet’s pen and it leaves the marks with ink on the page as the fox imprints on the snow.
Coming to the aesthetic side of the poem, it is written in free verse. The poet is highlighting the making of a poem in the imagination, and your imagination transcends the limits of a rhyme scheme… (That is why I deem the free verse as the best medium to convey the real poetry.) The poem consists of twenty-four lines divided into six different stanzas. Each stanza of the poem is linked; however, an interesting fact about the poem is that you can create another meaningful poem from it. I will show you how. Let us join the first and the last stanzas of the poem (removing all the four stanzas from the middle). We have something like the following:
“I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Besides the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Till, with 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.”

So, this is what Ted Hughes is perhaps hinting at in his poem The Thought Fox! All that is called imagination, cannot be captured by a poet! A very scanty portion of our rich fancy can we but put on the page…

Find more about Ted Hughes on this link:

Ted Hughes Wikipedia

Hope this article might have helped you in understanding the poem.
Thank You

Alok Mishra

First and foremost a poet, Alok Mishra is an author next. Apart from these credentials, he is founder & Editor-in-Chief of Ashvamegh, an international literary magazine and also the founder of BookBoys PR, a company which helps writers brand themselves and promote their books. On this blog, Alok mostly writes about literary topics which are helpful for literature students and their teachers. He also shares his poems; personal thoughts and book reviews.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Can you please answer this?
    The fox is a metaphor for creativity, particularly poetic inspiration.Identify how this connection may be drawn from images in the poem?
    However, the explanation is outstanding.

  2. I am reading your articles and an excellent way to
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  3. Many thanks for this beautiful explanation of the poem alok. It helped me in understanding the work by Ted Hughes. Can you write about that poem in which Thomas Nashe says about Helen’s eyes?

    1. Dear Chetan,
      first thanks for writing your views. And sure, the poem you are talking about is A Litany in the Time of Plague, written by Thomas Nashe. I will write about that poem as soon as possible. And I am quite happy to know that my writings can be useful for students of literature.

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