Comparative Analysis of the poems “The Horses” and “The Thought Fox”
In Hughes’s poetry, “racial memory, animal instinct and poetic imagination all flow into one another with an exact sensuousness” – Seamus Heaney
“The Horses” and “The Thought-Fox” are two of Hughes’s most powerfully symbolic poems, introducing the author’s extensive examination of the rational actions of humans as compared to the instinctual actions of animals. It is true that the dominating impression that these poems leave with a reader is a sense of the vigor and frequently violent energies of both the non-human world and the inner world of man’s own emotions.
To begin with, the very titles of both the poems deal with two different animals having various significant symbolic implications and connotations. It is very interesting to note that Hughes has chosen a Fox to illustrate his idea of creativity. Fox is a crafty animal, very mischievous, very slippery, not to be trapped or caught easily. Being a symbol of deception and cleverness, it would always try to hoodwink the hunters and other animals. It is somewhat subtle and elusive. Very intelligently, this image of Fox hints at the process of hitting upon an idea or getting a sudden interesting thought or more precisely, the art of creation of poetry which is also elusive and slippery in nature. Its just like, once an idea is conceived, the only way to preserve it is through capturing it on a piece of paper, otherwise there is a dire threat of it being slippery enough (exactly like a fox) to sneak out of the mind. On the other hand, horses in “The Horses” are the symbols of natural energy, potency and pro-creative power.
The beginning lines of both the poems use the personal pronoun ‘I’ which refers to the narrator. The setting of both poems is indicated in the first lines which is ‘woods’ in “The Horses” and ‘forest’ in “The Thought-Fox.” We find another striking similarity between the odd timings which are mentioned in both poems. e.g. ‘hour-before-dawn’ in “The Horses” and ‘midnight’ in “The Thought-Fox.”
We have very strong vibes of some impending threat in the very beginning of the poems where on one side the unfathomable fear of the “Evil air” and a “frost-making stillness” makes us freeze with alarm, the danger of “Something else” being “alive” in the other poem clutches the strings of our mind even more. We are shaken up in the very commencement of the poems, our senses seem to be all at work and we seem to be already startled with the underlying theme, the tone and the choice of words by the poet.
From the beginning till the end, both poems have a proper sequence that takes the readers along like a roller coaster ride. As in “The Thought-Fox,” initially we find the lonely narrator with a blank page, who may be struggling to scribble something on it even though the page remains blank. This leads to the emergence of a vague figure in the next stanza, which takes some formation and is seen as the figure of a fox. It further takes a proper shape and finally, by the end, the page gets printed and the creation is complete. On the other hand, we see a sequence in “The Horses” as well. The poet starts like a journey during which the narrator comes across horses that are “making no sound”. He moves away from these horses and describes the external world and its environment with the same brilliance with which he described the horses. We see him returning to the horses by the end and the journey gets complete. It seems that both the poems are treated as a very powerful lens of the camera which first shows the objects lying near but then focuses the far off images very clearly and then returns back to the close image again.
In psychoanalytic terms, both poems can be interpreted in very interesting ways. “The Thought-Fox” may in a way represent a conflict between the Id and the Ego where the awake Ego is trying to compose a piece of writing while the passionate subconscious Id is constantly trying to overpower it, resulting in the triumph of the awake Ego in the form of the “printed page” by the end of the poem. However, in “The Horses” the “Huge in the dense grey” horses can be interpreted in various ways. Horses may represent the unconscious of a man which sometimes fall into a deep slumber just like these “Grey silent fragments” in the poem. They can also be considered the un-trodden corners of man’s mind which get stirred only very rarely. These very horses can also be taken as the symbolic fulfillment of wishes (in the form of Dreams) that have been repressed for a long time. These wishes come out in strange ways, cloaked or covered under the veils of some uncanny images.
Considering the differences in the two poems, we come across various tiny details that very delicately separate the two poems in form, content and theme. While there is only one Fox in “The Thought-Fox” and “ten together’ horses in “The Horses”, still this one fox overpowers the ten horses in its sharpness and quick movements. We find ‘stillness’ and ‘silence’ in “The Horses” whereas “The Thought-Fox,” despite its loneliness of its narrator, is filled with sharpness and a lot of unstoppable movement. While we see many colors in “The Horses” like grey, orange, red and blue, “The Thought-Fox” on the other hand had only darkness and ‘A widening deepening greenness’. Yet, by the end, we have a strong feeling of ‘abundance’ as we can imagine almost anything and everything with the page being printed. In “The Horses”, there is ‘Not a leaf, not a bird’ while the narrator sees ‘no star’ in “The Thought-Fox”. Further we see a lot of juxtaposition of opposites in “The Horses” like ‘blackening’ and ‘brightening,’ ‘The frost’ showing ‘its fires’ etc but in the “The Thought-Fox” we see no combination of opposites on the surface level but the only juxtaposition we see in this poem is the contrast between the lonely atmosphere of the poem and the sharpness of the emerging fox.
It is not a special concern for animals that seems to have drawn Hughes to write about them in these poems. It is surely something deeper than merely an ordinary concern for animals (which apparently could have resulted from his employment as the zoo-attendant). It is rather that he sees in them the clearest manifestation of a life-force that is distinctly non-human or, rather, is non-rational in its source of power. Hughes observes in modern man reluctance to acknowledge the deepest, instinctual sources of energy in his own being, an energy that is related to the ‘elemental power circuit’ of the universe and to which animals are closer than man.
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In Hughes’s poetry, “racial memory, animal instinct and poetic imagination all flow into one another with an exact sensuousness” – Seamus Heaney “The Horses” and “The Thought-Fox” are two of […]