The fox is a metaphor for creativity, particularly poetic inspiration. Identify how this connection may be drawn from images in the poem.

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To understand the fox as the image of inspiration, consider the poem as a frame narrative. A frame narrative is a story within a story, in which one story acts as a frame around the other. The opening and closing lines establish the scene of a writer sitting at his desk, wondering what to do with the blank page in front of him. The opening stanza presents the problem—”this blank page”—and the closing line presents the resolution: “The page is printed.” In between is the extended metaphor of a fox sneaking through a snowy forest. We know this is a metaphor because the first line tells us the poet is imagining the wintery scene.

The second stanza describes the fox’s approach, and it’s an apt description of inspiration. Have you ever tried to remember something, and you felt like the word was right at the tip of your tongue but simultaneously unreachable and far away? That’s what the poet is describing here when he presents the fox as “something more near / Though deeper within darkness.” Then the idea comes to him, “with a sudden hot sharp stink of fox,” as inspiration often comes. Just as the moments of struggle and anticipation in trying to remember a lost word are resolved in a flash, so too is the fox of creativity a quick and jarring creature. The poet concludes with a victory, as the thought is captured in print.

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In this poem by Ted Hughes, we can see through the imagery the poet chooses how the fox is intended to represent creativity and poetic inspiration. The fox is the "something else...alive" in the "forest" which is evidently metaphorical, given that it is defined by "this blank page where my fingers move." The speaker imagines himself to be adrift in a forest represented by the blank page he finds himself unable to fill with creative output.

If this forest is the poet's mind, the "snow" the poet imagines within it seems to echo the blankness of the page, and the dearth of inspiration into which the fox "sets neat prints," making its mark. The fox seems to creep towards the poet, "brilliantly, concentratedly." The moment of inspiration breaking is represented by the fox entering "the dark hole of the head," after which "the page is printed." The fox of inspiration, then, creeps towards the poet making inroads into the blank emptiness until finally it reaches its target and emerges as the words the poet is seeking.

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