Critical Analysis of The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes

The Thought Fox

                                                                                               Ted Hughes
I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star: 

Something more near

Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,

A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox

It enters the dark hole of the head.

The window is starless still; the clock ticks,

  The page is printed. 

 The Thought Fox is not difficult for most people to understand. It is a poem about writing poetry. The idea for the poem comes like a fox in the night. First formless and indistinct it needs to be gently charmed out of the darkness and into light until its form takes shape. Most people also recognize that the night is a metaphor for the stillness of the poet’s imagination.


The poem opens on the words “I imagine this midnight moment’s forest“. We know that we are not dealing with a literal forest, but with an imagined one. And something else is alive in the imaginary forest.

The fox is a metaphor for the idea of a poem. If that is so, our metaphorical fox most likely comes to our writer out of a metaphorical night.

Hughes tells us that the night is starless, silent, very dark and lonely. Describing the night as “lonely” is a good clue to the fact that the night is a metaphor or a symbol for something else because the night cannot literally be lonely. One might feel lonely during the nighttime, but then that is a sensation experienced by a person. It is not a characteristic of the night itself. 

The metaphor works so well. A thought, an idea, is formless and without shape. One is never sure where it comes from. He captures the formlessness by letting us glimpse only the eye, the shadow, the prints, smelling the fox. It is never described. He places it, too, in a formless environment: a blank page, snow and night. One cannot know where fox begins and snow ends. 

There is another thing worth noticing about the metaphor. The fox began as something imagined external to the poet in the forest but ends lodged inside the poet’s head. The head is its lair, its resting place. A transition has occurred. The page is printed, but otherwise all is the same. The window is still starless and the clock still ticks.


Hughes’ earlier poetic work is rooted in nature and, in particular, the innocent savagery of animals.



   The ‘Thought-Fox’ has often been acknowledged as one of the most completely realized and artistically satisfying of the poems. It is a poem about reflecting the processing of writing a poem. Its external action takes place in a room late at night where the poet is sitting alone at his desk. Outside the night is starless, silent, and totally black. But the poet senses a presence which disturbs him.

 In the two first paragraphs we can observe how the author is describing the environment, he also has in front of him a blank page where his fingers move, and as he says Through the window I see no star. But inside that completely darkness we can find the loneliness. According to the poet the modern life is full of loneliness.  

 The idea of the gentle dark snow suggests the physical reality of the fox’s nose which is itself cold, dark and damp, twitching moistly and gently against twig and leaf. In this way the first feature of the fox is mysteriously defined and its wet black nose is nervously alive in the darkness. Gradually the fox’s eyes appear out of the same formlessness, leading the shadowy movement of its body as it comes closer.

 The fox has scented safety. It has come suddenly closer, bearing down upon the poet (and upon the reader). It is so close now that its two eyes have merged into a single green glare which grows wider and wider as the fox comes nearer, its eyes heading directly towards ours.

 If we follow the full poem the ‘visual logic’ of the poem makes us to imagine the fox actually jumping through the eyes of the poet.

Hughes in ‘The thought-fox’ unconsciously inflicts the violence of an art upon animal sensuality in a passionate but conflict-ridden attempt to incorporate it into his own rationalist identity. 

The rhyme structure followed is A / A / B / B in the first stanza but in the second stanza it changes to C / C / D / D.

 The poem deals with 6 stanzas and 4 completed lines. Each stanza deals with 4 incomplete lines and the author uses the present tense in this poem because it is a recent event. And the metaphors are clearly noticeable during the poem because, if I have understood correctly the poem, the poem is itself a metaphor. The fox is the entire poem itself. The poet has also used many dramatic themes and words which make the poem more attractive.  




    • Charlotte on November 14, 2014 at 10:01 am

    It was really helpful…thank u so much Mr. Mahbub. The style of ur explanation was quite simple and meaningful. I just feel so glad to have found ur site.
    Thank u…thank u….thank u… 🙂

  1. Sublime and great style Mr, Mehboob, I exploited this too much Thankssss

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