The sunday poem: 2. Simon Armitage
Every week Ruth Padel discusses a contemporary poet through an example of their work
Sunday 29 November 1998
Standing its ground on the hill, as if it could hide
in its own stars, low down in the west of the sky.
I could hit it from here with a stone, put the torch
in the far back of its eyes. It's that close.
The next night, the dustbin sacked, the bin-bag
quartered for dog meat, biscuit and bone.
The night after that, six magpies lifting
from fox fur, smeared up ahead on the road.
A poem about distance and secret violence, moving from the star fox to hurting it, being raided by it, its death. Gesturing to Ted Hughes's poem on writing a poem, "The Thought-Fox", it is also about that wily, near-but-far, piratically vulnerable thing, inspiration.
Aptly for a secretive animal, the poem is held together by inner rhyme: "ground", "own", "low down", "stone" (echoed in "close"), then "bone" and "road", which rings you back to "d" on the first line-end. The fox runs from "hide", to "road", via its "own", "low" attachments (ground, stone, bone), threatened by the hidden rhyme of "if it" and "hit it". This first stanza is long vowels: "hide", "eye", "sky". The second's rat-tat-tat sounds speed things up. Bs, Ks and Ts ("meat", "biscuit", "meat", "bag", "magpie", "sacked") get the fox's snapping appetite and foreshadow its own end - as meat.
Among many monosyllables, the participles' softer endings speak to each other: "standing", the first word, sadly partners "lifting", which "lifts" those magpies over the edge of the nearly-last line, up from the fox who once, like them, inhabited the sky.
c Ruth Padel
''The Fox' appears in Cloud Cuckoo Land, Faber
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