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.

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

Photograph of Me Holding the Cat – Janet Frame – Comments

A Photograph of Me Holding the Cat
I see I have fallen into the trap. 
I hold it against my breast
but not on the side of my heart.  If you observe closely
you will see my fingers pressed into the fur
of my liable cat my escape-cat who would much rather be
                             stalking
in the great elsewhere at ground or sky level, seldom in
                             between where people’s heads are.
There is a tenderness in the way I balance its back paws
                             on my palm.
It’s all quite by chance.
I am frowning hard.  I too would much rather be
at my own level where I seldom meet a soul
except perhaps a travelling word or two, hordes of memories,
and because there is a tomorrow, a few meditative dreams
that will accompany me in my pleasurable inward world
my secret mirror of your great here and my great elsewhere.
Janet Frame (1924 – 2004)

The actual photograph is not available for the reader to sight, at least to my knowledge. But we can imagine based on JF’s words. What is more important is the detail and underlying interpretation. It is both a liable and an escape cat – implying a cat that likes the outdoors. And JF, a cat person, is very gentle in her holding.

But then in the last six lines she uses the cat’s likeness for its own level to define her own level.

JF states that she is content with being away from people but still connects using letters (travelling words) and she also connects by recalling the hordes of memories. This indicating the poem was written late in life.

But the key to her soul is her pleasurable inward world – and her secret mirror.

And if you read her autobiography (written in 1984); especially the last of the three-volume trilogy (An Envoy from Mirror City) you will glean clear meaning to that association. The Mirror City is her understanding of life experience created by imagination – her mirror city. It is her very special personal world as she looks into that hazy glass called reality. And she becomes a messenger in the form of an envoy. An envoy from another world … the world of imagination … where she devoted her life to literature and writing.

I do like that last line – your great here (life) and my great elsewhere (interpretation).

She was very gifted and led quite an amazing life. Her literary talent was discovered in her writing of short stories and the winning of a prestigious award while incarcerated in a mental institution in New Zealand. She was awarded a grant and travelled to London in 1956 at the age of 32. This was the opening to many adventures and eventually literary success and recognition in London after spending time in Ibiza and Andorra.

A film was made by Jane Campion based on her life called – An Angel at My Table. The title of the second book of her three book autobiography.

Janet Frame – Wikipedia

A link to her poem The Icicles.

The Icicles – Janet Frame – Comments

The Icicles

Every morning I congratulate
the icicles on their severity.
I think they have courage, backbone
their hard hearts will never give way.
Then around ten or half past,
hearing the steady falling of drops of water
I look up at the eaves. I see
the enactment of the same old winter story
– the icicles weeping away their inborn tears,
and if they only knew it, their identity.

Janet Frame (1924 - 2004)
'The Icicles' from The Goose Bath (Vintage, 2006), and in Storms Will Tell:
Selected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2008)

This is all about the personification of an icicle. And of course like most of nature the movement from one state to another is without thought and if you like a total acceptance; humans are a little different!

There are perhaps some deep underlying thoughts promted by the text. The question to consider is whether we weep our way through life traveling through the winters of experience. And what do we become as we change state in our final dissolution? And do we transform into a new identity?

I will leave it for readers to ponder such questions, if they so desire!

The following are some details on the New Zealand writer Janet Frame; mainly from Poetry Archive webpage –

She is known primarily as a prose-writer, but Janet Frame’s passion since the age of nine was for poetry. Desperately unhappy because of family tragedies, later judged as ‘abnormal’ and spending years in mental hospitals, she never stopped writing poems, expressing the recurrent themes of nature, animals, people, death and writing itself, and aiming for a “truthful vocabulary of what is and is not”. Yet she only published one volume of poetry, The Pocket Mirror, during her lifetime. A posthumous selection of the overwhelming number of poems she left behind was published in The Goose Bath, the title referring to the container in which Frame kept the poems.

Janet Frame on Wikipedia

Footnotes on a timeline – Ellen Van Neerven – Commentary

Footnotes on a timeline

Burnt in blue to circumnavigate the strange land of
evanescence, the blue line they call time moving all forward,
blueing the blackfellas they dared call savage –
you can’t steal from savages. There was infinite wealth to steal.
Do you understand what it means to be a beneficiary of
colonisation? Can we creep through the timeline and draw
against the ancient-modern binary?

I can point on one side of the wave to my ancestors’ story,
I trace it through. They thought they cleaned it up but they
built the shallowest grave. They sold their soul for gold and
coal and oil and we line our stomachs with water, it will
be our armour, we are the people that can live inside our
dreaming, live inside the sea, live inside a turtle’s heartbeat,
live inside the sun on the sand, warm this country for
centuries because we are the real entities.

Don’t turn a blind eye, please, all we need for you to see is
that climate is our only bank. If we don’t have healthy water,
air, earth, we got nothing. So where does your money go,
where does your time go? My time and your time are on this
timeline.

There’s time for us to read out all of the footnotes, go over
the fine print. They burnt records of us in fires, they stole
the evidence of our survival. But check my blood, I’m from
here. This country is a haunted house, governments still
 playing cat chasing marsupial mouse. How many lies on
your timeline? Have you ever felt like you’re just killing
time? We’re still smoking sores. Let’s carbon date it, baby.
We have time to read out all the footnotes of a timeline in
Reckitt’s blue .

Ellen Van Neerven (1980 – ) from her book ‘Throat’

Ellen van Neerven is an Aboriginal Australian author, educator and editor. The timeline refers to the colonisation of Australia in the eighteenth century.

Reckitt’s Blue was a product used in hand washing as a whitener, to help delay the yellowing effect you can get when cotton gets older.

It is also an ekphrastic poem as there is a painting of the same name. See this link … Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue (detail) 2017 – The Drawing Room – ABC Radio National.

The poem is based on the colour blue and the product ‘Reckitt’s Blue’ in reference to the clash of cultures and the destruction occurred by the white invasion of the country. And as you can see Reckitt’s Blue was an appropriate product in connection with the whitening of Australia that took place against the indigenous culture.

The title is very apt as Aboriginal peoples associate so strongly with the land. Bare foot walking gives a sense of home. These notes is the vein of a poem come straight from the heart of Aboriginality.

Looking at each stanza –

S1 … Well, it is all to do with the ancient-modern binary; the coming together of two very different peoples due to the journeys across the blue. And in a different understanding of blue, the blueing of the blackfellas. And the infinite wealth to steal is not the wealth from mining exploration. And we have the reference to the Reckitt’s Blue painting with that verb draw. And this is the big question – what are the benefits of colonisation?

S2 … The painting has a wave of blue and this is used to portray two different sides of the story. The selling of the land for what it contained; gold, coal and oil within the shallowest of graves. Implying a loss of Aboriginal life. Against this that which is impossible to steal articulated using Aboriginal culture such as the living inside the dreaming. And the deep association with the land and nature with that metaphoric statement to live inside a turtle’s heartbeat.

S3 … A telling statement on the environment for we are all on the same timeline – my time and your time are on this timeline. Care of environment is paramount to survival.

S4 … Here the timeline of the colonisation years is shrouded in the lies of non-recognition of what happened in those years of destruction; the stealing of the evidence of survival. Often a timeline is a continual statement across time denoting a whole list of events. This might not be a true representation from a white interpretation; but the poem ends providing that marvelous metaphoric footnote in terms of Reckitt’s Blue.

It seems appropriate to include this poem as last week was NAIDOC (National Aborigine and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week which is always the first full week in July.

And here is a link to a poem from Oodgeroo Noonuccal famous for promoting acceptance many years ago – We are going – Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) Comments | my word in your ear– with similar sentiments on the nature of the impact of  colonisation on the indigenous peoples of Australia.

And Ellen Van Neerven on WordPress – Ellen van Neerven | Mununjali author (wordpress.com)

On Wikipedia … Ellen van Neerven – Wikipedia