‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ by Ted Hughes

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket –
And you listening.
A spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming – mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath –
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
‘Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon! Moon!’

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

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6 thoughts on “‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ by Ted Hughes

  1. Frieda, the daughter of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, was
    about two when the poem was written and the family were living
    in the countryside of Devon in England, near Dartmoor. At that age,
    the little girl would have been taking delight in trying out new words.

    Line 2: In the second stanza, the images might be taken either as
    physical details in their own right or as metaphors to describe
    Frieda’s intense listening.

    What is the theme of this poem and how is it conveyed? Consider
    such things as voice, tone (how is the stillness of the scene and the
    sounds of the evening established?), the patterns of sounds
    (be careful not to try to analyse individual words too closely!), Frieda’s
    sudden exclamation, and the relationship of little Frieda to the
    universe.

  2. I have a big problem with this poem my teacher finds it difficult to explain it to me could you please try . I do not get the relationship between the lines , thank you in advance.

    Obou Leyla

  3. This poem is about a man watching his creation, a child, with fascination as she investigates her surroundings in the countryside.
    A child focuses on details: ‘a cool evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket’, this is all the child is aware of. Little Frieda is examing the world through her senses just as the poet is observing her. The little girl listens, then looks at a spider’s web and the surface of a bucket of water.
    It gets a little more abstract as the herd of cows pass: the child blurs their identity: ‘a dark river of blood, many boulders’ she doesn’t see individuals, just a warm mass of life (blood) with ‘warm wreaths of breath’ and boulders’ (the shoulders of the cows) sticking up above the bovine flow, all of which for a child of course, represents milk as yet ‘unspilled’.
    IN the last section the child notices the moon and shouts out. For the author the moon has been looking down at the little girl, just as he has, when the child notices and catches it by surprise and looks back up at it pointing.

  4. “Full Moon and Little Frieda”
    The poem “Full Moon and little Frieda” was written by Ted Hugdes. It is a lyrical poem, containing a lot of biographical elements. The poem can be interpreted in many ways. It describes the quieting neighbourhood of Yorkshire at an autumn evening. But there is also a sub-topic in it due to the date of the poem being published (after the death of the poet’s wife, Sylvia Plath). It could describe the incredible survival of his daughter, “little Frieda” in spite her family’s suicidal background. The poet could be considered to be narrating the poem to a specific person. He is addressing his speech to a figure “Frieda.” Although the poet is speaking, he does describe the short scene of Frieda crying to the moon – “’Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon! Moon!’ ”
    The layout is a mixture of few verses, each consisting of one sentence and two blocks of paragraphs with short lines and a lot of punctuation. The poem consists many long and slow paced verses and also followed by its vice-versa. The poem starts with a slow pace describing the setting and climate. As the noises become quieter the suspense increases by the use of many short lines and punctuations. But after the third verse the noise is broken by the little girl. This causes a small disturbance creating an intense attention between her and the Moon. The poet has used this structure to create suspense in the reader, so that later the sense of relief can be felt. There are few lines which are alliteration, adding a rhythm to the poem. “To tempt a first star to a tremor”
    The whole poem is being conveyed with the help of imageries. “A dark river of blood, many boulders, Balancing unspilled milk.” is one of the most significant imageries of the poem. This is because it seems to have a double meaning. One could say that he’s describing how the cows are returning to the barn-house. Another, knowing the poet’s and his daughter’s biography could say that the poet is describing his daughter’s survival from the dark background of her family – “A dark river of blood.” Or her overcoming of many difficulties – “, many boulders,” carrying unspilled innocence – “balancing unspilled milk.” The sense of sight is required due to the use of several imagery.
    The use of alliterations and assonance determines the pace of the poem. It suggests that the poem is quite slow at the start, causing tension to build up. For example the last line of the 2nd verse consists of repeating consonant, ‘t,’ creating a feeling of anxiety in the reader (for example “To tempt a first star to a tremor”). But in contrast, the whole of the 3rd verse has only short consonants and long vowels like ‘o’ “Cows are going home in there lane there, looping the…” This creates a sense of relief because everything is settling down and the day is almost over.
    The first and second verse accomplished the task of creating a still and quite mood. The verses were describing a general everyday routine, saying it in such a way that an event is about to happen. Actually the poet himself feels appreciated recognizing the fact that he’s able to enjoy life normally with his daughter (the subject of the poem). This though the rough path he has taken. He feels extremely happy realizing the fact that he has his daughter on his side. The poet feels amazed by the fact that his daughter is so innocent that her innocence can be compared with the moon’s purity. With the help of the title you can understand what the reader is trying to compare little Frieda with, which in this case is the moon.
    I thought the poem was enlightening in the areas of strong relationship between a father and a daughter. I may not be the right person to whom the poem could correspond. But this poem indeed had described the right appreciation that a father should have. Through this poem, I learned that the relationship between a father and daughter can be just as strong as a relationship between the mother and daughter. It taught me to generally appreciate life in any circumstances or troubles. I admire the poet because he managed to make me understand these vital morals of life.
    Sagnik Aich

    1. Thank you again for your response, Sagnik, and it’s very thorough. I would suggest that you leave Plath’s death out of the analysis -if you chose to contextualise the poem, perhaps thematically would be best -about growing up, childhood, innocence the inevitability of womanhood…

  5. – Explore Ted Hughes’ writing in ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’, showing how he creates a striking atmosphere.

    The change of atmosphere in the poem Full Moon and Little Frieda is controlled by Ted Hughes to create a dramatic atmosphere. With carefully chosen words, Hughes builds up tension and brings it up to climax.

    Tension is built up as a foundation for the astonishing ambience later in the poem. By closely describing stationary, unnoticeable things, the poet is able to create the suspense which helps to amplify the climax. A spider’s web is “tense for the dew’s touch” which presents the stillness of life and gives an idea that the environment is very shrunken up as if in anticipation for a shock. The imagery of a pail full of water adds to the idea of anticipation that it is “still and brimming” which portrays the expectation of an event about to happen. A pail is used well as imagery because when the water is full up to the brim, the water toppling perfectly visualises the tense climate of the poem. Also the “mirror” suggests stillness. A “tremor” is all a pail needs to tip out its content and thus foreshadows some action. Moreover, the help of the repetition of “A” in the beginning of the sentences, the listing tone embellishes tension. In the first two stanzas of the poem the build-up of tension is clearly noticeable.

    While the previous stanzas were devoted to creating a strained mood, the third stanza reveals a completely different scene and yet perfects the building of the most intensified atmosphere. “Cows going home” insinuates a normal routine, a shot of an everyday life and that everything is normal despite all the tension that has been built up. The “lane” suggests an unspoilt “pail” because lanes connote evenness and uniformity which contrasts to the spilling of water. The uniformity is emphasised by “balancing unspilled milk”, careful not to spill and break order. Moreover, the sameness is exemplified by a metaphor of “warm wreaths of breath” in which the wreaths connote evenness and arrangement. Also the alliteration of “warm wreaths” holds some significance as it is a soft pronunciation and does not have any accents. This reinforces the idea of tranquillity which is an anticlimax to amplify the actual climax of the poem. While the climax is magnificent, grand and stunning, the anticlimax holds values for its antonymic behaviour. A “dark” atmosphere is adopted to hide what is coming shortly, the climax, and is given a sinister tone to add to that effect. The “dark river of blood” insinuates hardship and ominousness which is supported by “many boulders” to add to the idea of hardship. However, these boulders can be seen differently as stepping stones to help cross the “dark river of blood”. This ambiguity is used nicely to create a confusing, chaotic atmosphere which will be broken heroically. Furthermore, the whole stanza is a case of enjambment; reading the lines separately will give different meanings aforementioned, and reading it as a whole gives a contrasting idea. On seeing the stanza as one sentence, it is deducible that this stanza denotes Hughes’ rough past. Although Hughes went through various hardships and suffering, he managed to balance the “milk” and be with his daughter. Therefore, figuratively the “milk” could be his daughter which is an example of metonymy. Would he have spilt it on his course, he wouldn’t have his daughter with him at the point of writing. Hughes creates the most intense anticlimax before the pinnacle of the poem.

    In contrast to the third stanza, the fourth stanza is the site of climax. This shock which the poet has to present is helped with the use of several punctuations and words. “Moon” is repeated three times to emphasise the presence and each is followed by exclamation marks to supplement the unexpected action. The word “suddenly” adds to the shocking effect. Simile is used to create a pertinent imagery to describe the shock “like an artist gazing amazed at a work” which depicts the surprise. This surprise is because of the fact that the little Frieda is so innocent and pure such that she cries out “moon” as if it was a scientific breakthrough. It is almost as if the moon is jealous of her purity, because moon itself connotes purity and is quite taken back to find a more innocent person which is suggested by the repetition of “amazed” which shows the extreme consternation of the moon. The last stanza finishes off the poem without proper ending to the climax by which creates a reverberation of the climax and also leaves an ambiguous notion. With the uses of exclamations, repetitions and simile, the climax is successfully managed to finish the poem without dissatisfaction.

    Hughes creates the astonishing climax by focusing on the anticlimax which is built up from the beginning, which in the end builds up the climax itself. By closely describing objects linked with movement and intensifying the moment just before the climax, the poet built up tension and used it effectively to hit the climax with full power.

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