Smell in your Dreams
The Thought-Fox by Ted Hughes is a poem about making a poem, almost like a dream it starts with the poet and a lonely clock ticking and then he senses something more nearer, he gets glimpses of this idea/being, slowly revealing itself to be a fox, everything building, until the final stanza when with ‘a sudden sharp hot stink of fox, it enters the dark hole of the head.’ The animal smell of the fox, this closeness to the idea/fox, wakes us from the dream. ‘The page is printed’, the poem is there.
Blood in his Dreams
When Ted Hughes read ‘The Thought-Fox’ in public he used to introduce the poem by telling the audience about a dream he had two years before he wrote it. At that time Hughes was studying English Literature at Cambridge. He believed that his studies stifled his creativity. He dreamt that a burnt and bloody fox, the size of a man with human hands, walking on his hind legs, came into his room. The fox put a bloody hand on the essay he was writing and said, ‘Stop this – you are destroying us.’ When he wrote ‘The Thought-Fox’, he may not have been thinking about this dream at all, but it is interesting that he subsequently made this connection.
As in so many things creative, it is often in hindsight that we can see the golden thread which links them together.
Why the Fox?
I am no stranger to foxes and wrote a poem which you can find elsewhere on this website called “Why the Fox?”.
Hughes claimed that the fox was his totemic animal. In some shamanic traditions the shamans never tell who their spirit animals are, while in others the shamans are quite open about this. Your totemic animals change and you may have several during your life in shamanic traditions.
I have been drawing a fox man for nearly a year now. I do not know why. I find it easy to draw him. It is of course partly autobiographical and an easy mask to hide behind. I can say or attempt to say things about the world I live in, while all the time imagining other worlds.
The fox is a cliché. it is often invoked to represent a mixture of the civilised savage: ourselves. Many people talk to me about Mister Fox the great film, and of course from time to time in my drawings the Crow puts in an appearance with the Fox. The Fox has a resonance in our culture- he is so common as to be invisible. He is known for the folk qualities of slyness and his trickster attitude. At the same time the fox is lovable. And deeper still the fox is wild. The fox is a wild animal.
The Fox in Contemporary Art
A friend of mine explained to me that the fox is very popular in contemporary art because it is easy to find stuffed foxes in antique shops. The fox dies, is stuffed and reborn again in an installation. If the fox is lucky its physical remains are not too badly treated in this reincarnation. For some it would be better that they were forgotten beside the battered, empty valved dusty trumpet at the back of the antique shop. When I see the fox’s helpless body mistreated and disrespected I feel sad.
Meeting the Fox for Real
I just came back to France from holidays in Dublin, my home town. This is also part of the reason why it has been so hard to post this video of me saying the Thought-Fox. I also have stopped drawing foxes. I don’t know why. Holidays I suppose…
Dublin is full of foxes. Real foxes and surely many false ones too. I saw a fox crossing the road in broad daylight. A fine healthy fox, well-fed with a beautiful coat. A couple of nights later I was coming home late from a friend’s house and I saw a fox in the same place in the dark. It may have been the same fox. It crossed the road in front of me and went down another road. It stood beneath the yellow lamp. I looked down the road after him and it turned to stare at me. We held the stare for a long time and then I reached for my phone to somehow capture it; a bad photo, a shaky video. It looked at me from the lamplight and I tried to discreetly take out my camera. Then it turned and was gone. I stood there with my useless smartphone.
I went on home thinking about how do we meet foxes? How do we meet animals? How do we meet that wild part of ourselves? And then we try to capture it. And if we capture the wilderness it runs away.
‘So you see, in some ways my fox is better than an ordinary fox. It will live for ever, it will never suffer from hunger or hounds. I have it with me wherever I go. And I made it. And all through imagining it clearly enough and finding the living words.’ Ted Hughes (Poetry in the Making)
Not everyone would agree that catching the wild thing is the right thing. And this is a Thought-Fox, notice that hyphen in the title now?
Attempt at Conclusion
It’s late at night, you are alone trying to find an idea, trying to draw, trying to write, trying to write music, trying to imagine a new thing, a way to put into something a something that you sense…
This is what the Thought Fox is about. It is about the birth of a poem.
So. I have started learning a poem by heart a week. At the end of the week I post the poem on my website and on my instagram. I am on week three and I don’t really know why I am doing it. I enjoy the process of learning and I imagine that I will start to see other benefits. But for the moment it is a way of selecting poetry that I love, an echo of the infinite contained in the finite body…
I am trying to learn a poem a week but this one has been a little tricky to learn and to find the time to say it.
There is nothing more useless and useful than poetry. Especially now so many of us have a need for the promise of poetry, the rawness of poetry, the true lies of poetry, the possible impossibility.
I was about to give up– I know so many people have done this before. I am doing this for me alone and my own enjoyment. I post it to give myself an obligation and a deadline. If you don’t like it, I don’t give a f**k… 🙂
I hope that it will give you the wish to do something that you want to do yourself- you don’t have to post it…
by 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,
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.
From The Hawk in the Rain (1957)