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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Thought-Fox

(Grey Fox by Carry Akroyd, English artist and printmaker)

About fifty years ago, BBC Radio invited the poet Ted Hughes to present a series of programs for school children teaching them “the simple principles of imaginative writing.” These talks were collected in the 1967 book Poetry in the Making.

In the first program, Hughes discussed how he came to write the poem below, one of his most famous.

“In a way, I suppose, I think of poems as a sort of animal. They have their own life, like animals, by which I mean that they seem quite separate from any person, even from their author, and nothing can be added to them or taken away without maiming and perhaps even killing them. And they have a certain wisdom. They know something special . . . something perhaps which we are curious to learn. Maybe my concern has been to capture not animals particularly and not poems, but simply things which have a vivid life of their own, outside mine.”


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.

~ Ted Hughes (1930-1998), English poet, editor and writer of essays and many children's books, and poet laureate from 1984 to 1998

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