The Thought-Fox – Ted Hughes – Analysis

The Thought-Fox
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)

This poem was included in ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ publication (1957) which brought prominence to Ted Hughes as a poet.

Animals, especially a fox, were significant to Ted Hughes. As a boy he spent many hours with his older brother hunting and shooting animals. When he was preparing an essay late at night he fell asleep and had a dream involving a fox.

This is how he described that moment – ‘the door opened, and a creature came in with a fox’s head and a long skinny fox’s body – but erect and with huge hands. He had escaped from a fire – the smell of burning hair was strong and his skin was charred and in places cracking, bleeding freshly through the splits. He came across. and set his hand on the page and said “Stop this. You are destroying us.” He lifted his hand away and the blood-print stayed on the page. The hands, in particular, were terribly burnt.’

Hughes listened to this dream and immediately stopped writing ‘teacher-pleasing’ essays. In a way this poem is a partial recollection of that fox dream. He clearly states the nature of the creative process. The fact that a poem cannot be summoned or controlled but awaits the arrival of the words from the forest of the mind. And when Hughes gave a talk, he compared the writing of his poetry to the capture of animals.

Looking at each stanza …

S1 … The midnight dark is equated to his imagination, this is equated to his mind as he processes his thoughts. Thoughts are the initial keys to the creative work. They are alive and he is searching through the forest for something. There is little else happening apart from the lonely tick of a clock. And the blank page awaits. Well, you do need full focus and time to yourself to release that internal creativity.

S2 … Through the window of his mind something is happening. There is a stirring albeit of an imperceptible intuitive feeling within. The fox or the words are about to break into the loneliness. When TH was writing these words his dream above must have come alive again.

S3 … What is this animal? That is the question – what is this poem that is being formed? It comes out of the cold slowly making movement. The touches twig, leaf mirrors the soft pad of the paws. And the fox’s nose touches snow or should we say the blank paper is touched with its invisible inking. From his thought the words will eventuate. But there is much repetition in this creative process as seen in the repetition in the last line of the stanza. And the ‘eyes seeing’ can be likened to his mind in realising the full extent of his creative thought. Seeing or expanding what he wanted to convey.

S4 … And then there are prints in the snow. There are actual words on the blank sheet. And something bold takes place. A poet must be bold and address the wild nature of the animal.

S5 … Out of the black dark of night there is a greenness. Green indicating growth in the materialisation of the poem. And it is coming out of its own business. The visitation of this animal, this poem, has now to be articulated in the form of transference to words. A poet tries to capture such visitations when they occur. And if they occur at night while in darkness and in bed, the morning light often dissolves the once promising thoughts.

S6 … This hot stink creative happening occurs. It indicates something dramatic and something immediate, something impressive hopefully. There is a sense of completion – the page is printed. The initial wording often takes much work in finalisation.

Footnote …

Later in his life, in 1960, a fox cub came into his life. At the time he was still in his marriage with Sylvia Plath. He was walking in London over Chalk Farm Bridge when he saw a young man with a fox cub under his coat. The man had brought it into the city to sell. TH could have bought it for a pound but there was no place for it in the home. In fact, Sylvia had recently given birth to their daughter Freida.

The last lines from the poem Epiphany in Birthday Letters (1998), where this event is described, show the difficulties at that time in blending his domestic family life with that of creative writing as a poet.

If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox 
Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage –
I would not have failed the test. Would you have failed it?
But I failed. Our marriage had failed.

Epiphany – a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.

In these lines a fox can be equated to many other activities that are compromised in relationships – would you have failed it?

Ted Hughes on Wikipedia

The Trees – Philip Larkin – Analysis

The Trees 
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In full grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)

It is spring in Canberra, so these words are very apt. And as it is now Australian spring so May translates to September.

S1 … I do like that second line of the first stanza – like something almost being said – it articulates that almost opening of buds and leaves and gives voice to the season; personifying. The last line of this stanza catches you in thought, why grief?  There is a kind of greenness – I guess they don’t know quite what they are in for and what mother nature will throw at their fragility. And with so much extreme weather happening and it is not so easy to be a tree. They may feel sorrow too for all their dead family leafage on the ground.

S2 … Hopefully we will experience many years of seeing seasonal changes. And no, they are not born again. We know they are not dead although, metaphorically, we call them dead in winter. They have a hidden dormant time, and it is well known that the age of tree can be measured by counting the rings in a section of the trunk. So, they are not born again but the transition into new life which is a kind of birth. The tree is coming into green life, at least the deciduous variety. PL states that we die too like the tree. So PL alludes to the question of a possible human transition.

S3 … I do like the idea of trees being unresting castles. They grow continually and get stronger and stronger. So, they are increasingly capable of weathering the vicissitudes of climate, but not human interference of course. It is that last line that gives voice to the whispering of the wind in the branches; again; highlighting the personification. And I have learnt an innovative word to my vocabulary in that regard – ‘susurration’ thanks to our poetry appreciation group. This equally has that onomatopoeia effect.

susurration = whispering or rustling.

Rustling would be my choice in relation to trees, though they can indeed whisper which has a more communicative sense.

personification = the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human.

onomatopoeia = the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it

Philip Larkin on Wikipedia

Philip Larkin’s ‘Whitsunday Weddings’ is one of my favourite poems.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning – John Donne

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning 
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
   And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
   The breath goes now, and some say, No:
So let us melt, and make no noise,
   No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
   To tell the laity our love.
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears,
   Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
   Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers' love
   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
   Those things which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
   That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one, 
   Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
   Like gold to airy thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
   As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
   To move, but doth, if the other do.
And though it in the center sit,
   Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
   And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must, 
   Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
   And makes me end where I begun.
John Donne (1572 – 1631)

Valediction = the action of farewell … a statement or address made at that time

S1 … well this sets the scene on the way you should say farewell … it also illustrates the spiritual journey from earthy presence to that of eternity … a gentle passing of the soul … a farewell from one state to another.

S2 … Do not sound trumpets of sorrow and moaning when making a farewell to a loved one. This only cheapens that love. Let it be an internal grief rather than a display to the public combined with a spiritual recognition of the love

S3 … Then the metaphor of describing the physical earthly relationship with that of the spirit in terms of world natural happenings that are seen such as earthquakes with what is happening in the far-flung regions of the universe where nought can be seen with the human eye. Interesting that JD regards the distant regions as innocent, I suppose not contaminated by human existence.

S4 … Concentration on the sensual aspect and the loss of physical contact. This is a non-acceptance of the absence. For those more spiritually inclined there is no absence because a spiritual connection exists. Holding on the spiritual connection is not easy at the time of immediate grief.

S5 … The physical aspect of love is defined by – the eyes, lips, and touch of hands. This is compared with the spiritual aspect held in the mind by thought and prayer.

S6 … Two souls as one … an expansion – like the beating of gold. Apparently, gold can be beaten into very thin sheet … a transformation process, is likened to that of the separation process … properties remain but in a different ‘shape’

S7 … The compass is used as a way of defining a permanent relationship between the two people. The fixed part is the one left behind / the one loved. You then circle around this central figure. The central arm of the compass always following and facing you as you move. It is poetic to think of our creator acting like this, following and supporting us in every move.

S8 … The fixed part leans towards the lover if far away from centre. And the two arms of a compass can come together for close contact.

S9 … JD declares the importance of the circle. The circle is seen as perfect. It is only perfected by the firmness of the central arm. And, of course, the circle is endless; back to the starting point again; the origin love.

This is a poem all about contrasting physical and earthly love with that of the spirit. At the same time advising not sounding trumpets of sorrow and moaning when making a farewell to a loved one. And that there should be no mourning because a spiritual identity is on-going in the relationship based on love. There is a difference between mourning and grief.

mourning = the expression of an experience that is the consequence of an event in life involving loss, causing grief.

grief = intense sorrow, an emotional state

The spiritual connection is often a very background compensation.

There is plenty of analysis of this well-known poem on the Internet – A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Poem Summary and Analysis | LitCharts

John Donne on Wikipedia

And when thinking of the circle I remember the T. S. Eliot plaque in the church at East Coker, Somerset commemorating his life. His famous well-known words – in my beginning is my end … in my end is my beginning.

Parting is such sweet sorrow. I will say goodbye until tomorrow.

Canberra Can – Canberra Speaking

Canberra is speaking

Canberra and the beauty of Canberra is speaking loudly at this time of year! Canberra is such a fine city in so many ways apart from benefitting from the relatively low impact of the virus. I do hope those local readers can get out in the spring sunshine and enjoy the colour flush and associated return to warmer days. We have an abundance of recreational areas and nature parks. It raises the spirit no end; especially for those that have been confined at home! And isn’t it wonderful that the majority of those infected have recovered and are now able to get out and appreciate the change!

Here is an image from our garden of the crab-apple saying a white hello.

Unfortunately, the Australian media often uses ‘Canberra is speaking’ in a different context. I say unfortunately because those that have never experienced the delights of Canberra can have a coloured image associated by the political life of our city.

I wonder to what extent this stereotype is changing and how much people can Canberra in this way. It is in this light that I encourage the uninitiated to come see and for themselves in the following sonnet …

Canberra Can
Canberra can be quite annoying 
the polies are soul destroying
they come from a different place
to give our fine city a tainted face
please do not send rubbish here 
to rape their time in sex and beer
we care about our reputation!
we are the Capital of the Ozie nation!
so, peel off this superficial skin 
place firmly in the rubbish bin
and come to Canberra yourself to see
the abundancy of our city
then I am sure you will discover 
that this fair city is like no other!
Richard Scutter

For those readers outside Australia the unacceptable sexual behaviour by some politicians has come to the fore, including inappropriate behaviour and lack of respect for women generally. Interesting, the ‘Profumo / Christine Keeler Affair’ documentary has recently been on television. This was a major scandal in British Politics in the early sixties.

Sunlight on the Garden – Louis MacNeice – Analysis

Sunlight on the Garden
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.
The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying
And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.
Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)

The title – The Sunlight on the Garden – this creates an image in the mind and as soon as you have read the poem an association develops. As the poem is familiar immediate thoughts come to mind. But independently, I do like the image of garden and sunlight and how the garden is brought into prominence by the highlight of the sun. And if we mull over these words and what they conjure in the mind we can think of a garden scene and whether there is an unforgettable event prominent in our own personal thoughts. It is the key image that flows through the poem with repetition of text in the first and last lines. The poem explores a somewhat emotional journey as one specific instance is considered over time.

S1 … sad grief, loss … and that there can be no return to an event that happened … where perhaps choice was involved … where actions could have been different … maybe inappropriate behaviour, a wish that he had done differently … behaviour that cannot now be pardoned … at the same time a golden moment that has held personal value over the years.

S2 … time takes us quickly to an end … the world produces sonnets and birds … the created world, the product of man … and the natural world, both have beauty associations … but more important no time for dances … no time to be close together … a distinct feeling that there is a lamentation on a relationship

S3 … written in 1936 … the situation across the channel a little dark … flying, different birds are now involved, – blue sky shadows of evil iron = warplanes, and sirens suggests warning of air raids … we are dying … becoming history … Egypt symbolises history … his grief marries into the sad foreboding of war and the fact that life is changing not for the better

S4 … we are hardened by life experience … no pardon needed, if that was possible and now an acceptance, a thankyou … the end of reflection on personal experience … for being with someone very special … even if there has been thunder and rain … for sunlight on the garden … a repetition of title and the first line of the first stanza … glad for the golden moment … not troubled … and life can resume with the removal of this mind-shadow perhaps

The poem addresses those critical events in life when we wish we had made different choices. Events that we still hold on too, and perhaps find hard to accept even after many years.

On Wikipedia – Louis MacNeice – Wikipedia

Details on structure and poetic technique from Wikipedia …

The Sunlight on the Garden is a poem of four stanzas, each of six lines. It is a highly formal poem, and has been much admired as an example of MacNeice’s poetic technique. All the lines are loose three-beat lines or trimeters, except for the fifth line of each stanza, which is a dimeter. The rhyme scheme is ABCBBA. The A rhyme in the first stanza (“garden/pardon”) returns in the final stanza, but with the words reversed (“pardon/garden”). In addition to end rhyme, MacNeice makes use of internal rhyme, rhyming the end of the first line with the beginning of the second line (“lances/Advances”) and the end of the third line with the beginning of the fourth line (“under/Thunder”). George MacBeth comments that the rhyme scheme “has the effect of dovetailing the lines together and producing a constant sense of echo emphasising the lingering, fading quality of the joys of life which the poem is talking about.”[8]

The Bright Field – R. S. Thomas – Analysis

The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
R. S. Thomas (1913 – 2000)

R. S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest; so, it is not surprising that there are religious references. Moses and the ‘burning bush’ was the spectacular interaction where God defined the plan for Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. So, ‘The Bright Field’ could be considered, metaphorically speaking, that spectacular event in life that defines a personal focus to living.

The poem asks the reader to consider such personal turning points that define purpose. And to stay focus on that purpose, independent of a religious high being part of the equation. And to concentrate on the now; for indeed life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past.

And the sun breaking through has that latent son religious thought of a spiritual connection whether or not so glaringly stated as in the case of Moses and the burning bush.

It is nice to carry those ‘golden moments’ with us especially if they are of such significance that they define purpose and meaning to life! Especially to remind ourselves when we are overwhelmed by modern day lock-downs and stress; and to continue to follow our dreams regardless.

Enough of the didactic! … here is a special moment from my youth when I had the whole wide world before me (forgive the pun) …

Stopping One Day
I remember one day in June.
The height of summer and the sun
still rising on one of those days
that calls all nature into song.

Biking the back lanes of the Hampshire countryside.
Stopping on a bridge over a stream
the clear sparkling chatter below, while beyond
the fields praising their contentment.

Footnote …

It was one of those startling English summer days in June.  The sun stretching and all nature responded as I cycled down a country lane thinking of my future. I stopped on a narrow bridge over a little stream totally intoxicated with the joy of life.

On Wikipedia – R. S. Thomas – Wikipedia

A Wife’s Protest – Ada Cambridge

A Wife’s Protest
1.

Like a white snowdrop in the spring
From child to girl I grew,
And thought no thought, and heard no word
That was not pure and true.

2.

And when I came to seventeen,
And life was fair and free,
A suitor, by my father's leave,
Was brought one day to me.

3.

“Make me the happiest man on earth,”
He whispered soft and low.
My mother told me it was right
I was too young to know.

4.

And then they twined my bridal wreath
And placed it on my brow.
It seems like fifty years ago —
And I am twenty now.

5.

My star, that barely rose, is set;
My day of hope is done —
My woman's life of love and joy —
Ere it has scarce begun.

6.

Hourly I die — I do not live —
Though still so young and strong.
No dumb brute from his brother brutes
Endures such wanton wrong.

7.

A smouldering shame consumes me now —
It poisons all my peace;
An inward torment of reproach
That never more will cease.

8.

O how my spirit shrinks and sinks
Ere yet the light is gone!
What creeping terrors chill my blood
As each black night draws on!

9.

I lay me down upon my bed,
A prisoner on the rack,
And suffer dumbly, as I must,
Till the kind day comes back.

10.

Listening from heavy hour to hour
To hear the church- clock toll —
A guiltless prostitute in flesh,
A murderess in soul.

11.

Those church- bells chimed the marriage chimes
When he was wed to me,
And they must knell a funeral knell
Ere I again am free.

12.

I did not hate him then; in faith
I vowed the vow “I will;”
Were I his mate, and not his slave,
I could perform it still.

13.

But, crushed in these relentless bonds
I blindly helped to tie,
With one way only for escape,
I pray that he may die.

14.

O to possess myself once more,
Myself so stained and maimed!
O to make pure these shuddering limbs
That loveless lust has shamed!

15.

But beauty cannot be restored
Where such a blight has been,
And all the rivers in the world
Can never wash me clean.

16.

I go to church; I go to court;
No breath of scandal flaws
The lustre of my fair repute;
For I obey the laws.

17.

My ragged sister of the street,
Marked for the world's disgrace,
Scarce dares to lift her sinful eyes
To the great lady's face.

18.

She hides in shadows as I pass —
On me the sunbeams shine;
Yet, in the sight of God, her stain
May be less black than mine.

19.

Maybe she gave her all for love,
And did not count the cost;
If so, her crown of womanhood
Was not ignobly lost.

20.

Maybe she wears those wretched rags,
And starves from door to door,
To keep her body for her own
Since it may love no more.

21.

If so, in spite of church and law,
She is more pure than I;
The latchet of those broken shoes
I am not fit to tie.

22.

That hungry baby at her breast —
Sign of her fallen state —
Nature, who would but mock at mine,
Has made legitimate.

23.

Poor little “love- child” — spurned and scorned,
Whom church and law disown,
Thou hadst thy birthright when the seed
Of thy small life was sown.

24.

O Nature, give no child to me,
Whom Love must ne'er embrace!
Thou knowest I could not bear to look
On its reproachful face.
Ada Cambridge (1844 – 1926)

This ballad style with alternating eight/six iambic syllable lines is typical of poems created in early Australia. Poetic structure was adhered to by the poets of the day. Why each stanza is numbered I do not know but this is how it is represented in her work on the Internet.

In much of her later writing a predominant theme was the proper basis of marital choice. Quite clearly this poem is a sad lamentation when that choice turns sour to the extent of slave proportions. And in stanza 15 we see there can be no restoration from such a predicament –

But beauty cannot be restored
Where such a blight has been,
And all the rivers in the world
Can never wash me clean.

I could not help feeling wounded inside at the likely fate of Afghanistan women and girls under the repressive Taliban regime. And doubt whether the strong sentiments expressed in this poem are in anyway an adequate expression of feelings.

Details of Ada Cambridge from the Australian Dictionary of Biography …Biography – Ada Cambridge – Australian Dictionary of Biography (anu.edu.au)

Ada Cambridge, later known as Ada Cross, was an English-born Australian writer. She wrote more than 25 works of fiction, three volumes of poetry and two autobiographical works. Many of her novels were serialised in Australian newspapers but never published in book form. While she was known to friends and family by her married name, Ada Cross, her newspaper readers knew her as A.C.

And on Wikipedia –   Ada Cambridge – Wikipedia

A Mother’s Answer – Louisa Lawson

A Mother’s Answer

You ask me, dear child, why thus sadly I weep
For baby the angels have taken to keep;
Altho’ she is safe, and for ever at rest,
A yearning to see her will rise in my breast.
I pray and endeavour to quell it in vain,
But stronger it comes and yet stronger again,
Till all the bright thoughts of her happier lot
Are lost in this one — my baby is not.
And while I thus yearn so intensely to see
This child that the angels are keeping for me,
I doubt for the time where her spirit has flown —
If the love e’en of angels can fully atone
For the loss of a mother’s, mysterious and deep.
I own that thought sinful, yet owning it — weep.

Louisa Lawson (1848 – 1920)

She was the mother of Henry Lawson and she bore five children. Henry Lawson is well known and his short stories on early Australian life are exemplary (refer to the collection – ‘While the Billy Boils’)

The passion exhibited in Louisa Lawson’s sonnet was due to the death of an infant daughter. This poem was published  in the Mudgee Independent and brought recognition to her poetic skill.

The first part of the sonnet stresses the inescapable loss, independent of any angels keeping her safe. Then there is a clear change at the volta; after the first eight lines. Atonement is not possible even the love of all the angels is insufficient. She regards her thought sinful, but it is only a thought. She is quite willing to own it; but it makes no difference. Nothing can appease her grief.

Louisa Lawson had a very hard life. She was a long-suffering bush-woman. After her husband Peter left, she worked tirelessly to secure income for the family. A very gifted person who was a prominent suffragette working for the emancipation of women. She setup the publication Dawn and used this to promote emancipation.

For full details on her life see – Biography – Louisa Lawson – Australian Dictionary of Biography (anu.edu.au)

And a link to Henry Lawson.