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The Thought Fox -- Ted Hughes

(Poem #98) The Thought Fox
I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Besides 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 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.
-- Ted Hughes
Somehow, the adjective that comes to mind most often when I read Ted
Hughes is 'clean' - I think of his poetry as being very concise, very
elegantly crafted, incisive, as glittering and sharp and dangerous as a
scalpel... there's a latent violence about his work that, barely
restrained, imbues the whole with a raw, primal power.

And yet... poems like 'Hawk Roosting' (Minstrels, Poem #42) may be as
harsh as the surgeon's knife, but antiseptic they never are. There's a
colour and passion that fire Hughes' images; his world of 'Nature, red
in tooth and claw' is at once both more earthy and more 'real' than
those of the Movement poets who were his contemporaries; their works
seem pallid and strained in comparison.


"'The Thought Fox' is a poem about composing poetry, or rather, about
being visited by the muse. Appropriately enough, in Hughes' case, the
muse is an animal, a fox. Hughes has said that this was the first animal
poem he wrote."
    -- George Macbeth

Ted Hughes died last year, at the age of 68. Some extracts from his
obituary in the Times:

"It has been said that all great works of literature either found a new
style or dissolve an old one; that they are, in other words, special
cases. The poetry of Ted Hughes is such a special case; its forcefulness
and animal vitality injected new life into English poetry. He will be
remembered most particularly for the strength of his early work, and for
his final, remarkable two books.

The appointment of Hughes as Poet Laureate in succession to John
Betjeman in 1984 signalled not just a new generation, but a change of
outlook. A post that had for more than a century been filled by
Establishment men mostly with mellow voices - Betjeman, Day-Lewis,
Masefield, Bridges, the lamentable Alfred Austin, Tennyson - was
suddenly occupied by one of the fiercest, most critical and
uncompromising of writers, who seemed most unlikely to be able to
provide verses for state occasions.

Laureate poems were never his forte, but it was a chore which he
dutifully carried out. He much preferred to send private poems, not for
publication, to the Queen Mother, with whom he often stayed in Scotland
and shared a passion for fishing, and also to other members of the Royal
Family. This reticence was typical of Hughes, always preferring to
perform in a private and a modest manner. "The whisper is always louder
than the shout," he would tell friends when asked if he would like to
comment on his work. He preferred to let it stand on its own.

Yet Hughes was perhaps the most widely read serious poet of his time.
His early work - The Hawk in the Rain, Lupercal, Crow - was immediately
acclaimed, as were two books in the late 1990s, a free adaptation of
Ovid, and his verse memoir of his first wife, Sylvia Plath, Birthday
Letters. He was always a prodigious poet, as well as producing
children's books (including The Iron Man, now recognised as a classic),
anthologies and criticism. Both his great poetic triumphs and his
failures stemmed from uncompromising self-reliance.

His poem The Thought Fox contained what became one of Hughes's most
famous images, an emblem of the ferocity of his own poetry: an idea
entering the head with the violence of an animal, the "sudden sharp hot
stink of fox". These rapturous encounters with nature's claws and teeth
showed Hughes to be the finest English nature poet of his generation. "

You can read the complete obit at
[broken link]

For a more detailed biography, visit
[broken link]

43 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Randal Cyt said...

Im actually looking for a review on his poem the thought fox and find
the metaphors and meanings..

Gdole1time said...

Poetry is very hard and confusing. If these people would just say what they
mean instead of blah blah I would probably have better grades in college than
I have now. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the written word as much as anyone,
but face it, you all don't REALLY know what these people are talking about.
Speculation. All of it.

Roy Armitage said...

This is one of my favourite poems by Hughes. Even today, I can clearly
remember as a school child listening to his recital of this poem in North
Yorkshire at some literary society event and the accompanying story of his
encounter with the fox. Absolute magic.

I still get a great deal of pleasure reading Hughes and when I recommend him
to others I always warn them about mistaking 'vitality' for 'violence'. I
am not sure whether I heard this from Hughes or not but I have always
associated it with him and I have found it to quite useful in understanding
the life of many his poems: 'Any form of violence - any form of vehement
activity invokes the greater power - the elemental power circuit of the

W.H.OAMI said...

Dirty Fox I wish it didn't stink so bad.


Mekhala Samsi said...

hi... i have read very little of Ted Hughes.just this and Birthday Letters. but this poem is sheer brilliance. i remember a friend reading it out to me and the imagery in my mind has never been more vivid. its a rare gem.
Mekhala Samsi.

Berkeley & Martha Glenn said...

Wonderful poem.

Does anyone know the poem Ted Hughes references - about meeting a fox face to face on top of a mountain?

Berkeley and Martha Glenn
RR 1, Box 133
Millboro, VA

Berkeley & Martha Glenn said...

never mind; a misunderstanding of what the poet actually said.

Esprin Reddy said...

such a brilliant poem! im only 15 and i really enjoyed it! we had to teach it back to the class and after researching i formed my own opinion and goot really into it!

wow! ive never looked at poetry as fun and interesting but this definitley is!

especially when the attitude is right!


Stu Jamieson said...

That was the worst peice of junk i've ever read i could have made something sound better out ofmy arse. you bunch of geeks need to stopreading crappy poems, it would be more useful burnt.

Helen Tuckey said...

One of the few poems I can remember studying many years ago at high
school. I'm now a musician and am trying to think about how to
inspire others. The unpredictable but tangible experience of
inspiration expressed in this poem from many years ago came to mind.
I couldn't even remember who wrote it ... thank you google and thanks
for this site. It was a great reread.


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