The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes: Summary and Analysis

The Thought Fox was first published in Ted Hughes’s poetry collection The Hawk in the Rain in 1957. This poem is his breakthrough which indicates his turn from metaphysical poetry towards mythmaking. This poem is particularly significant for the inclusion of his main themes and stylistic approaches. The poem basically deals with the writing process.

Ted Hughes (1930-1998)

At the beginning of the poem, the paper is black and as we come to the end, the paper is filled. In between, the speaker describes the creative process.

The speaker in the poem is alone and sitting at his desk with a blank paper and the time is midnight. The night is quite silent, absolutely dark and it is starless. The speaker imagines that something else is alive in the forest at midnight. That something else, when it is far is cold. The poet describes that something as the fox which metaphorically stands for the thinking. The thinking at the beginning is quite far. Gradually our mind revisits the subject of our thinking and develops command over that subject. Gradually, the subject becomes the major part of our thinking and once the subject enters our head, it makes us restless; it always seeks an expression to that situation, the poet metaphorically describes as the ‘hot stink of fox.’ Once we express we got the psychological relief and satisfaction.

He feels it is disturbing him, but the disturbing force is not outside, it is in his mind. The darkness of the night, metaphorically stands for the darkness in his imaginative faculty which is silent and strangely exciting him. He feels the fragile, dim and blur idea, but cannot make a concrete idea and draw a line. He has to feel it, sense it and give it a fuller form with the help of his consciousness and language. The movement of this particular thought is compared with the fox in the darkness whose presence can just be felt, but not seen.

The fox is coming near and near and suddenly it enters into the head of the poet. This process is metaphorically referred to the entering of the dim and blurry idea and becoming clear and familiar to the poet. The ticking of the clock symbolizes the ticking of the poet’s mind to express it in any form. Finally, the fox enters into the head and the blank paper of the poet is printed. The blank sheet of paper can only be printed when there is thought and imagination. So, the title is the thought fox.

The final stanza celebrates the pleasure of poetic creation. The action is described as the ‘sudden sharp hot stink of fox’ where the immature and raw idea suddenly with the sharp stink gets realized and flow through the pen onto the paper. The blank paper is printed and this is the happiest situation for any poet. Now the dim and mysterious fox which was figureless in the darkness has got the shape of the poem.

Ted Hughes is popularly known for the use of animal imagery. The title of the poem itself is loaded with animal imagery where the fox is compared with the thought process of a writer before composing something great. Both for the fox to make a move and for the thought to be released, they need silence and solitude. The measured and quick steps of the fox is the process of contemplative writing, and the use of ‘now’ for the four times focuses on the  careful steps a fox takes before entering into the head of the poet. This process beautifully connotes the forming of the thought more clear and concrete. The shadow of the fox is becoming more clear and clear and its advancement through the snowy woods, leaving the foot print beautifully and artistically states that the dim thought is now clear and it is being printed in white paper. The white snow with the foot print stand for the blank paper printed with the poetic creation of the poet.