The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Thought-Fox” is a poem of twenty-four lines divided into six stanzas. The title tells the reader that the poet is drawing an analogy between a thought—specifically, in this case, a poetic composition—and a fox.

The poet speaks in the first person and in his own persona. He begins by evoking the silence and mystery of a forest at midnight. An atmosphere of suspense is created as one becomes aware of “something else” that is alive in the imaginary forest outside. The world of the forest is set against the world of the room where the poet is working, characterized only by the presence of a clock and the poet’s as yet blank paper.

The second stanza intensifies the suspense. The poet shifts his perspective, taking the reader’s awareness outside the room as he looks through the window into the black, starless night. The “something” is approaching, beginning to solidify out of the darkness. The third stanza gives the first tangible sense of the creature in the form of the fox’s cold nose investigating the surrounding twigs and leaves.

The poet introduces the fox into the reader’s sensory field in parts: a nose, then two eyes, as the fox stealthily moves between the trees of the silent, snowbound forest, then the whole body as it flashes across clearings. The fox in its literal sense as a fox is fully realized by the fifth stanza; it is “Brilliantly, concentratedly,/ Coming about its own business.”


(The entire section is 470 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Ted Hughes extends his central metaphor of fox-as-thought with great skill. Although the fox is symbolic of poetic creation, the reader is able to maintain a strong sense of it as a “real” fox. Even when Hughes is conveying abstract ideas, he uses precise detail and concrete sensory images from the natural world.

Hughes often uses strong contrasts to convey his notion of nature as interacting opposites: life and death, light and dark, predator and prey. The main contrast in this poem is between the intense vitality of the imagination (the world of the fox) and the impersonal vacancy of the poet’s self and environment. The unidentified “something else” in the forest seems more real, more alive than anything in the room, including the poet. More human feeling is accorded to the clock in its “loneliness” than to the poet. He is defined in negatives, in absent terms. There is a disembodied quality to the image of the blank notepaper “where my fingers move,” as if the fingers had a life of their own and were acting independently.

The abstract phenomenon of the creative process is made into a living creature of independent will. “Something more near” than the starless night, yet “deeper within darkness,” solidifies out of the blackness. This apparent contradiction, of something being real yet elusive, is descriptive of an idea at its genesis. One is aware of the idea’s existence, yet it has not yet gained sufficient...

(The entire section is 583 words.)