The Thought-Fox

by Ted Hughes

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Last Updated on October 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

Introduction

“The Thought-Fox” is a 1957 poem by Ted Hughes that uses a fox as an extended metaphor for poetic inspiration. The poem is among the first Hughes ever wrote and can be read as a sign of things to come. Indeed, the poem combines motifs, themes, and stylistic touches that can be found in much of his later poetry. These include his keen interest in the natural world and in animal life in particular, his fascination with poetry and other acts of creation, and his loose, personal approach to traditional poetic form.

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Summary

This poem describes a poet’s process of encountering inspiration and writing the actual poem which results from it, using the fox of the title as a central metaphor for that inspiration. The speaker begins by imagining a darkened forest at midnight, the time at which he is evidently prepared to write. He feels that there is something alive in this setting besides him as he looks upon the blank page before him. 

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The speaker notes the clock, and he describes it, too, as lonely, perhaps because of the late hour. The speaker cannot see any stars outside his window, but he feels the presence of something else within that vast darkness “entering the loneliness” of his midnight forest with him. At first, he is only aware of its presence, the presence of inspiration coming to him. 

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Latest answer posted May 28, 2013, 12:43 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Suddenly and quietly, a fox enters the midnight forest, touching its nose to the trees. Its eyes are visible through the darkness. The fox’s tiny feet make neat footprints on the surface of the snow, winding between the trees, though the fox seems to approach cautiously, warily, coming only very slowly towards the hole that represents the speaker’s consciousness. The fox must be bold enough to cross wide open green spaces, clearings where it might become vulnerable. Eventually, with a look of concentration, it does come closer and closer. 

Suddenly the fox is quite near, and the speaker all at once becomes aware of its overwhelming presence, its “hot stink.” At this point, the animal enters the deepest recesses of the speaker’s mind—the “dark hole” of his head. There are still no stars to be seen outside, and the clock continues to tick, but now the page in front of the speaker is empty no longer: it has been “printed.” The speaker has evidently responded to the inspiration represented by the fox by writing, a process of which he almost seems unaware.

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Themes