For one so ubiquitous in folk stories, myths and reality, it is a difficult animal to know. Ours is a rural population, nocturnal, rarely seen, unlike the urban foxes that now inhabit many towns and cities in the UK. Sometimes, it seems they wield strange powers: in 2011 Czech scientists discovered that foxes are somehow able to ‘see’ the Earth’s magnetic field, and use it for range-finding before pouncing on their prey. My understanding of my elusive neighbours is almost entirely gleaned from footage recorded while I sleep:
Rudolf Těsnohlídek's The Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears appeared as a serialised comic-strip in the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny – People’s News – in 1920, inspiring the seventy year-old Leoš Janáček to write one of the 20th century’s best-loved operas. The Czech word Bystroušky, sharp-ears, has a double meaning, synonymous with cunning. The Cunning Little Vixen, as the opera eventually became known in English, transformed the originally comedic cartoon into a philosophical reflection on the cycle of life and death, and desire for a return to simplicity.
Ted Hughes’s The thought-fox is a poem about writing a poem. In a room late at night the poet is sitting alone at his desk. Outside the night is dark and silent, but the poet senses a presence ‘entering the loneliness.’ The night is the darkness of the poet’s imagination out of which a vague idea emerges. It has no clear outline; it is not seen but sensed; it is compared to a fox, delicately sensing its way through the undergrowth. The fox emerges only slowly out of the formlessness of the night. The fox is the poem, and the poem is the fox: ‘the page is printed.’
National Meadows Day
Matthew’s exploring of landscape through words does not, as he explained, always involve making a literal connection. One reading, at a stone-built viewpoint between two areas of marshland, was of his reworking of the rallying speech from Aristophanes’ The Birds, entitled Hoopoe’s Cuckoo-song. Birds, real and literary, were always close at hand, from recently-fledged avocets – a local success story – to the ones featured in the final short poem of the day. In this, Matthew described a flock of starlings landing on high tension electricity cable: ‘their song is a kind of current, and the current is a kind of song.’