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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

“The Thought-Fox” appeared in Hughes’s first collection of poems, The Hawk in the Rain (1957), and is one of his most celebrated and anthologized poems. This poem contains many of the stylistic and thematic elements that have come to define Hughes’s poetry. In terms of Hughes’s poetic development, this poem was unmistakably his breakthrough, signaling his departure from the rhetorical and Metaphysical poetry and his movement toward mythmaking.

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The poem comprises a reverie by immediately invoking the imagination in the first line: “I imagine this midnight moment’s forest.” The alliteration in this line suggests a casting of a spell. The first stanza of this twenty-four-line poem arranged in quatrains evokes solitude; plainly, the writer is working late at night alone, the only sound being “the clock’s loneliness.” Beyond the writer’s domain of time and the blank page exists the primordial force of the imagination.

The poet becomes actively aware of the approach of the nearness of the other or the imagination in the second stanza. The poet stands at literal and figurative thresholds: He stares at a blank page, which becomes the dark window, the starless sky, and then into the forest’s darkness. In the third stanza, the poet has crossed these various thresholds to make contact with this totem-figure of the unconscious or the imagination. Both the poet and the metaphorical fox are tentative in their approaches. The rhythm enacts the moment-by-moment movement of the reverie. The selection of simple words underscores the directness of the experience and the rhythm of the poem’s trancelike chant: “Two eyes serve a movement, that now/ And again now, and now, and now/ Sets neat prints into the snow.”

The fourth stanza traces the movement of the fox through the trees. Gradually the blank, snowy page fills with print, the tracks of the thought-fox. The poem is simultaneously depicting the transcription of a poem from the imagination onto the page and describing the moment of inspiration. The fifth stanza is the most abstract while also seeking to convey the fullness and primordial magic of reverie as the poet is swept into the “deepening greenness,” or vitality, of the imagination. The force of the reverie overwhelms the poet, until the sudden physical presence and departure of the fox in the sixth stanza occurs: “Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox/ It enters the dark hole of the head.” The imagination at this moment shows its immediacy and power; the fox is no longer a shadow but dangerously close before vanishing and leaving the page printed, scented with its presence, its territory marked. The imagination, for Hughes, is a primordial force; its presence is both creative and predatory. The poem implies that it is necessary, however, to engage these archaic powers if one is to write an authentic poetry.

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Themes