The Power of Imagination in “The Thought-Fox”
In ‘The Thought-Fox’, Ted Hughes explores the transformative power of the imagination through the extended image of an imagined ‘fox’’ roaming through foliage post-midnight. Indeed, the poem might be read as an ode to beasts through putting a tender and gentle spin on descriptions of a ‘fox’- an animal generally perceived as beastly and intensely violent. Nonetheless, upon further examination the poem reads as a testament to the power and creativity of the imagination which is able to conceive of vivid images that are, in fact, faux.
Throughout ‘The Thought-Fox’, Hughes challenges perceptions of animals as primitive and aggressive through the extended description of a ‘fox’ which is described with a tone of both beauty and tenderness. Such is immediately demonstrated through the simile ‘delicately as the dark snow/ A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf’, with the plosive alliteration of ‘delicately’ and ‘dark’ mirroring the careful and lithe movements of the fox. Furthermore, the brief syndetic list of ‘twig, leaf’ conveys the onlooker’s perspective of rapidly trying to digest the wondrous sight from his window. Indeed, alliteration links much of the language throughout from ‘sets’ and ‘snow, to ‘midnight’ and ‘moment’, to ‘body’ and ‘bold’, which echoes the fox’s actions of gently padding through the forest, whilst also conveying the speaker’s desire to remember such a moment through articulating it so concisely. Highlighting this is the declarative that ‘warily a lame/ Shadow lags by stump’ with the metaphor of a ‘shadow’ when reinforced through weakening adjective ‘lame’ erasing any connotations of danger of fear that might have been associated with the fox; through implications that it is as harmless as a shadow.
Indeed, the even number of six stanzas paired with the even number of four lines within each stanza suggests that the actions of the fox are logical, are tentative therefore it should not cause any harm. Nonetheless, it could be argued that the dynamic line which begins the final stanza, describing ‘a sudden sharp hot stink of fox’; breaks from such tranquility with the triple use of dynamic adjectives and sibilance. Furthermore the diction ‘hot’ most notably holds connotations of violence and passion, perhaps undermining the speaker’s previous descriptions of the fox as tentative and gentle. Yet, we can understand the point being made by the poet that passion and gentility do not have to be mutually exclusive characteristics and are both contained within the fox; thus encouraging an audience to challenge their steadfast beliefs condemning foxes as terrifying creatures. Further sympathy is evoked for the animal through adjective ‘Cold,’ which is distinguished from the remainder of the line by a caesura to suggest that the fox has been stripped of its aggressive power and is now both meek and mild.
Additionally, the poem might be read as an ode to the capacity of the imagination to create beauty and awe in a setting in which there is none. Indeed, the poet’s frequent use of free-verse paired with the lack of fixed rhyme scheme throughout highlights the fact that the imagination can always surprise both the poet, and the reader alike. Reinforcing this is the gradual build up of the descriptions of the fox, who we gain an image of from a number of synecdoches including the ‘fox’s nose’, ‘two eyes’ and then ‘prints’, until we finally gain a sight of ‘a body’. That we gain merely snatches of the fox heightens the sense of wonder as the fox remains somewhat elusive, and can only be perceived wholly in the imagination. This is mirrored structurally; with the poet’s decision to begin and end on descriptions of a ‘page’ suggesting that the image of the fox cannot truly enter into reality, and must remain trapped within verse. The speaker’s desperation to retain the image of a fox reaches a climax midway through the stanzas through the asyndetic listing of ‘And again, now, and now, and now’ with the repeated temporal diction placing emphasis on the existence of the fox in the current moment. Thus, reality is diminished in comparison to the wonders of the present.
Furthermore, the epiphoric patterning of ‘now’ as closing the final two lines additionally convey’s the speaker’s disappointment with his knowledge that the moment will eventually pass. This is demonstrated by the monologue form of the poem and use of personal pronoun to begin the poem- ‘I’- suggesting that despite his efforts to conjure an animalistic companion, the speaker remains painfully alone. Nonetheless, the power of the imagination is shown to shatter such feelings of isolation and replace them with a sense of wonder as demonstrated by the catalogue of adverbs used to describe the fox’ eyes, from ‘widening’ to ‘deepening’, and then the adjectives ‘brilliantly’ and ‘concentratedly’ to suggest that the speaker’s imagination is growing in its power to conceive of the fox. Furthermore, we are not generally allowed to see what a fox’ eyes look like, and so Hughes here considers the capacity of the imagination to allow for the impossible to become true. Indeed, that the two adverbs are separated by the caesura of a comma implies that the speaker is savouring each glimpse of the fox and is extending the time in which he can view it. The frequent use of enjambment throughout further conveys the speaker’s unbridled excitement in his imaginative image of a fox, and additionally represents his action of struggling to write all the words down before the animal vanishes. Nonetheless, the poem ends on a tone of satisfaction conveyed by the dual declarative as use of comma and end stop which break from the enjambments as ‘The window is starless still’ and ‘The page is printed’, suggesting that the speaker feels satisfied in this mission to find a topic to write about. Indeed, use of end-stop and plosive alliteration of ‘page’ and ‘printed’ further heightens the sense of finale as if he has returned from a joyous adventure. Nonetheless, the personification of the clock in the line ‘the clock’s loneliness’ perhaps suggests that the speaker’s adventure into the wonders of his imagination has not reached a close, as even mundane objects can be imagined with a degree of magic through being considered to have human characteristics.
In ‘The Thought-Fox’, Ted Hughes challenges the idea of animals as violent and inhumane through the imagine of a gentle and tender fox that moves through the forest. Hughes’ poem might also be read as a testament to the wonders of the imagination. In this poem, and in the conditions of life that it addresses, it is possible to create beauty out of surrounding darkness.
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In ‘The Thought-Fox’, Ted Hughes explores the transformative power of the imagination through the extended image of an imagined ‘fox’’ roaming through foliage post-midnight. Indeed, the poem might be read […]