AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF HIS MOST FAMOUS AND MOST ANTHOLOGISED POEM 'THE THOUGHT-FOX', signed and inscribed ('For Roy 1st January 1990 from Ted with love'), 24 lines in six four-line stanzas, 1 page long folio, on hand-made paper, framed and glazed, overall size 26 x 14 inches, [composed, Rugby Street London, 1955; this manuscript written at the recipient's request at Court Green, Devon, 1 January 1990]
I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move...
Across clearings an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Coming about its own business.
Till with a sudden sharp stink of fox,
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still, the clock ticks,
The page is printed.
No manuscripts of this poem have been sold at auction. The poem was first published in his ground-breaking first collection The Hawk in the Rain, 1957. Hughes's papers are mainly at Emory University and in the British Library.
Ted Hughes described the writing of the poem: 'An animal I never succeeded in keeping alive is the fox. I was always frustrated: twice by a farmer, who killed cubs I had caught before I could get to them, and once by a poultry keeper who freed my cub while his dog waited. Years after those events I was sitting up late one snowy night in dreary lodgings in London. I had written nothing for a year or so but that night I got the idea I might write something and I wrote ["The Thought-Fox"] in a few minutes.' (Poetry).
Keith Sagar thought the poem was 'about writing a poem, about poetic inspiration, not about a fox at all. But the blank page is like a snowy clearing in the middle of a dark forest inhabited by "things which have a vivid life of their own, outside mine."' (The Art). At readings Hughes himself sometimes gave an account of the dream that prompted his abandoning the study of English Literature as an academic subject. Having struggled all evening to complete an university essay on Johnson, that night, in 1953, the second years he was at university, in a dream a fox, the size of a wolf, appeared erect and placed its paw, that seemed to be a bleeding human hand, palm-down on the blank space on his page, saying 'Stop this - you are destroying us. Then, as it lifted its paw he saw the wet glistening blood-print stay on the page. He understood the mark to be an image of his own pain for forcing himself to go against his own nature. He wrote the poem two years later. In a letter he emphasised to Sager that it is 'not really about writing a poem. It is about a recurrent dream.' It is possible that, in a degree, the fox and the poet are one in the poem, particularly in the last two lines of the second stanza.
PROVENANCE: Ted Hughes.
REFERENCES: Ted Hughes, Poetry in the Making, 1967; Keith Sagar, The Art of Ted Hughes, 1978; Letters of Ted Hughes, edited by Christopher Reid (see letter to Sagar, 16 July 1979), 2007; Elaine Feinstein, Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet, 200; Poet and Critic: The Letters of Ted Hughes and Keith Sagar, edited by Keith Sagar, 2012, pp. 74-76).