The variety of books I handled was remarkable, and because the librarian (her name, as I recall, was Judy Pitch) knew I was an aspiring poet, she kindly tried to make sure that I got hold of any poetry that came through for conversion. One day, Ted Hughes‘s first collection The Hawk in the Rain was there, and I devoted my lunch hour to read it through—at too fast a clip. The manuscript of the book had won The Poetry Center’s First Publication book contest, judged by Marianne Moore, W. H. Auden, and Stephen Spender—and I never got over the notion that Hughes must have been not much older than I was then when he wrote “The Thought-Fox.” (I didn’t find out until much later that he’d been four years older than I when that signature poem came to him, at age 24.) I read the poem over and over in my cage, painfully aware that I could not write anything like it and that I almost certainly never would. But it offered an illumination—the kind narcissistic young poets need most: it showed me the feeling I knew I would be looking for whenever I sat down to write.
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.