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The Thought-Fox Personal Significance of the Fox

After reading and analyzing "The Thought-Fox," it's easy to see why the image of a fox
emerging from the edge of a dark forest is similar to an idea developing and surfacing from the
depths of a writer's mind. The fox's manner—sneaky, clever, bold— echoes the way which an
inspiration can suddenly strike, while the forest's setting—dark, dense, deep—is much like a
writer's imagination. But the qualities the fox exhibits are also apparent in other animals who
creep around the forest at night. A cat on the prowl, for example, would fit the bill, too. So why a
fox?
The answer to this question lies in a dream Hughes had one night during his first year at
Cambridge. In his article "Ted Hughes' 'The Thought-Fox': Object, Symbol, and Creativity,"
Bibhu Padhi quotes poet W.S. Merwin, who once relayed Hughes' story of this dream.
According to Hughes and Merwin, Hughes dreamt he "Saw [his] door open and someone like
himself [came] in with a fox's head. The visitor went over to his desk, where an unfinished essay
was lying, put his paws on the papers, leaving a bloody mark." This dream figure then told
Hughes "You're killing me," and left.
At the time, Hughes was pursuing English literature. Following this dream, he decided to study
Anthropology and Archaeology instead, two fields which corresponded to his interests in
folklore, mythology, and the natural world. While this switch may seem contrary to a young
poet's goals, these disciplines fueled his creativity, allowing Hughes to seriously pursue the
possibilities lying in subjects that first captured his attention during his childhood.

Specifically, the animal world fascinated Hughes from a young age. In an interview with Drue
Heinz for the Spring 1995 issue of The Paris Review,  Hughes recalled the role that the
natural world played in his childhood, citing his Yorkshire upbringing as a crucial element in his
creative development. "When I came to consciousness," he remembered, "my whole interest was
in wild animals." He also said that "up to the age of seventeen or eighteen, shooting and fishing
and my preoccupation with animals were pretty well my life, apart from books." The natural
world's complicated character—gentle but unforgiving, violent but generative, fertile but filled
with decay—combined with literature proved an enduring poetic match throughout Hughes'
career.
Considering that "The Thought-Fox" appears in The Hawk and The Rain,  Hughes' first
collection, the poem resonates more powerfully as the work of a young poet coming into his
own, exploring his own mind's forest, teasing the possibilities of what lurks within. Because
Hughes' fateful dream established a connection between the poet and the fox's image and
character, it's not a far reach to equate the speaker of "The Thought-Fox" with Hughes and the
animal lurking near the forest with the sudden shock of the fox-figure in Hughes' dream. Hughes'
dream forced him to acknowledge and act upon a feeling he already knew to be true: abandoning
the academic realm of literary studies for the world of folklore, mythology, and mysticism would
best benefit his poetry.