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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

What is the reader to make of this dream scene in which truth changes into nightmare, a fox changes horses into fish, fish become stars, and a girl changes fox and grief into nightmare? As a successful poem should, “Magic Fox,” to paraphrase Robert Frost, says one thing in terms of another, says one things and means another. Its meaning is layered: It can be interpreted in its present or immediate past, as well as in its historic past. Similarly, it operates at the personal or at the tribal level. It can be located in reservations or western expanses.

There is a slippery uncertainty to the “present” of the poem: Roles change, objects transmogrify. There is no stability—everything is falling. The leaves that fall are not dead but green, suggesting the destruction of life. Stars fall; the men fall in the dust around the skirts of the blond girl. Though the speaker states that “her magic jangled memories/ of dawn,” the sleepers are too far gone to remember; they feel no grief and, perhaps, no regret. This is a picture of life in free fall, the individual results of which can be seen in the drunk Doris Horseman and her raving son in “Going to Remake this World” and other poems in the collection.

The blond girl is perhaps a too-obvious symbol of the European American influence so foreign to and destructive of the American Indians’ way of life. The destruction is not so much the result of military conquest as of the kind of seduction imaged in the girl’s dance, resulting in confusion, dependency, and loss of control.

The poem is about more than a present nightmare life, but about communal, reservation experience—where, in “The Only Bar in Dixon,” Welch writes, “These Indians once imitated life.” They no longer lived the actual life of the western expanses, but an imitation. Moreover, the subject of “Magic Fox” is plural: The magic fox was their fox; stars fell into their dreams.

The image of the blond girl is echoed in other poems in Riding the Earthboy 40 , the repetition suggesting the importance of the motif. The girl in “Blue Like Death,” Welch writes, “prized/ your going the way some people/ help a drunk to fall.” Obviously, she is the downfall of the “you” in the poem. A woman addressed in the poem “In My First Hard Springtime,” who offends the speaker’s friends and mocks him, is described as “white...

(The entire section is 605 words.)