Analysis on ‘Full Moon And Little Frieda’

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.

Choose moments in two [‘Amends’ by Adrienne Rich and ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ by Ted Hughes] poems where the language the poet uses has particularly excited you, and explain in detail why you have found it so exciting.

In the poems ‘Amends’ and ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’, by Adrienne Rich and Ted Hughes respectively, the poets use language to excite the reader. Their language also helps them to convey their message, and to make their poems more compelling and interesting.

Repetition of the phrase “as it” in the poem ‘Amends’ sets out the actions of the moon like a list; and is exciting in that it builds up an apprehension for every action. The repetition also shows that the moon goes through these cyclic actions every night, and can be accurately predicted in such a way that the echoing makes this seem like a story being told. The repetition also makes the poem sound gentle and flowing, increasing the reader’s excitement.

In ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’, there is also repetition that helps to make the poem exciting. The repetition of the exclamation “Moon!” three times shows the youth and innocence of the child shouting this, as well as their sheer wonder at the sight. It also helps the sudden entrance into the poem of the moon, which has gone unnoticed until this point. Thus, this shows the amazement of the child at this sudden appearance. Another example of repetition in the poem is that of “amazed”. This shows that there is mutual wonder and admiration, and helps to show the high degree of amazement in the “artist gazing” and his work that “points at him”.

The personification of the moon and the verbs that describe its actions form an integral part of the poem ‘Amends’. The rhyming words “picks”, “licks” and “flicks” are soft words that show how very light the moon’s touch is – some would say a feminine touch. “Rise”, “laying” and “flow”, also from the second stanza, are light, calm and smooth verbs as well. The image of the moon “laying its cheek” is a very soothing, and possibly motherly, gesture that cements this nurturing persona of the moon.

However, in the next two stanzas, more weighty and active verbs are used. “Pours”, “leans” and “soaks” are much more than just the light touch the moon gives before; perhaps this is because in Stanzas 3 and 4 it is doing these actions to man-made, artificial objects rather than the natural features she was touching lightly, as if there is a mutual awareness between the moon and the earth, but not with humans. These words achieve a personification that pinpoints the exact character of the moon, which helps to make the poem powerful.

Personification achieves a similar goal in ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda”. The “spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch” builds up an anticipation of an event, as if even now inanimate objects can sense that something is about to happen. The image of the moon “stepping back” gives it not the matriarchal character of the moon in ‘Amends’, but that of an artist who is taking in the pleasure of what he has created. Thus, the moon develops a distinct identity, and the way the poet used language to do this makes it compelling to readers.

 One possible interpretation of ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ concerns the physical and sexual maturation of a girl, and the poet uses exciting language where he is possibly giving us this message. The “clank of a [empty] bucket”, then the “pail lifted, … brimming” conveys the image of a bucket being filled, a metaphor for the growth of the girl’s body. The “cows” are allegories for women and mothers, and the importance of “blood” and “milk” as symbols of female maturation goes unspoken. The final product of the transformation leads to the “artist gazing amazed at a work”, like a parent who has watched their child grow to womanhood. These hints towards this possible interpretation are exciting uses of language in their own right.

The first stanza of ‘Amends’ contains exciting language that makes it both an appropriate and effective introduction to the poem. It opens with the phrase “Nights like this”, which is taken from the opening lines of Act 5 of Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’. This quote introduces the setting of night-time, and immediately links the poem to the moon, which is also central to that part of ‘The Merchant of Venice’. “The cold apple-bough” establishes the natural scene that starts ‘Amends’, however ‘”cold” is a harsh, cutting word that indicates the icy chill of the night. The “white star” cuts through the night, and brings the moon into the poem suddenly and violently, described as “exploding” out of the bark. The “small stones” help to link this stanza to the “greater stones” of the beach setting of the second stanza. Thus, this stanza contains powerful language that introduces all the key elements of the poem, and establishes a gripping scene within the stanza while linking to the next.

Ted Hughes’ opening to ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ also conveys the setting of the poem with intriguing language, such as the opening line. The “cool small evening” presents a calm setting that expresses the mellow and tranquil tone of the poem. Furthermore, the notion of the already “small evening” shrinking is interesting; it may mean the level of activity dropped. The word ‘night’ goes unspoken, as the only noises are “a dog bark and the clank of a bucket”. This reinforces the idea that “shrunk” refers to the level of activity dropping, and is the first thing to break through the “cool” setting of the poem. The only sounds being that of a dog barking and a bucket dropping hint at a rural milieu, which agrees with the stillness of the night: in addition, the presence of cows strengthens this argument. This first sentence of the poem gives us a mundane setting, possibly that of a farm, and leads into Stanza 2, which build tension of later events. In such a tranquil setting even happenings like dogs barking seem exciting to us, and this shows the effectiveness of an opening that is only one sentence.

The second stanza of the same poem builds apprehension and foreboding for event to come, with all four lines creating some kind of tension. “And you listening” is a completion of the first sentence that gives us questions about the scene: for example, we want to know whom the speaker is addressing, although one presumes it is Little Frieda, from the title. The image of the “spider’s web, tense” shows the serenity of the environment, backed up by the “still and brimming” pail. The possibility of this pail spilling creates an apprehension, as if things are balancing carefully in fear of perturbation. “Tempt” and “tremor” in the fourth line are words that invoke feelings of tension. Thus, this stanza brings about a sense of apprehension, like everything awaits an approaching phenomenon.

These two poems both use exciting language to achieve their purposes. The poets employ gripping language to achieve repetition and personification, to establish setting and build tension, and to provoke different interpretations of their work. ‘Amends’ and ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ give us all these uses of exciting language, and both poems are powerful for this reason.


36 thoughts on “Analysis on ‘Full Moon And Little Frieda’

    1. Glad you like it-check out the completed summaries of the poems under the category Poems for 2011-2012, for more info on the others. Good luck if you are sitting for the CIE Exam in May 🙂

      1. Hello Syeda,
        The CIE does not aim to trick people -they have a set marking criteria, and at IGCSE level you really are not expected to demonstrate a hige amount of independent thinking. The exam board just want to make sure that students can write about literature effectively and discuss the ways in writers achieve certain affects, and show some understanding of what you are reading.

  1. This was REALLY helpful!! However, I was wondering if you could provide some more literary devices that can be used for poems generally? I find that I can analyze poems okay but when it comes to backing up my analysis with literary devices used by the poets, I am seriously lacking. Any form of help would be greatly appreciated!! Even if you could just point me in the right direction. Thanks again, this is the most useful blog I’ve come across! x

    1. Hi Abhaya,
      Yes, that’s the hard part. What I usually do is get my students to read for meaning, then we move onto the language. All literary devices are taught -it’s something you are not born knowing and there are hundreds of them. These devices appear under ‘Cool links’. There are frankly far too many, and it’s not expected that you know them all. I would go through the comments under the ‘Poems and Summaries’ section and highlight all the words which look like terms…chances are they are literary devices employed by the poet. I hope this helps.

  2. Hi! i found this page looking for a definition and it was really helpful! thanks a lot! i’m from Argentina. It was a great plessure. CAMI

  3. 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.

    Hello, I am an A-Level student, English Literature is one of my subjects. If I was to hand in a piece of writing or an essay with the above in, my teacher would tell me that it was clear to her that I had not read it through.
    You have plenty of good ideas in your writing (plenty of drivel as well), but lots of the writing is just not passable. Many of the thoughts and ideas you have, are not given clearly over to the reader. If you are unable to express them articulately then you cannot expect the reader to follow them, regardless of how simple they might be. Also you cannot really expect your students to write coherently, if you struggle to do so yourself.

    Very useful site though 🙂

    1. You are right. Seth. I didnt write any of these, and no, they are not model responses at all. In fact,as a teacheer I include all members of my class, to be fair. Sometimes I find responses from other websites etc. As it happens. my students are only fourteen years of age, in Grade Nine. They are miles off from their A Levels, and most of them do noy have English as their first language. This is kind of why i started this whole blog thing -for them, so they could read and compare each others work. Thank you for your comments, though. Take care. Julia

  4. I am very sorry. These examples must be from another website, useful only for a few of the ideas contained (better resources to be had possibly?). The reason I seemed frustrated is often in some of my English classes which I have a very bad teacher for, we do peer review work and I am always reading essays exactly like these two. Marked highly, yet with all these huge flaws that render them unreadable not so much as pointed out!

    English is not my native tongue. Having spent over half my life now living here, it is clear to me only native speakers can mangle it as effectively as the writers above. The majority of writers in Year Nine especially those who learnt English as a second language would not be capable of writing of this poor quality. A skill such as this, perfected by politicians and businessman, can rarely be gained over a short period of time.

    I hope you wrote your comment as you did, as a jokey reference to my slamming of what turned out not to be your writing.

    I wish you well, in helping your students become as proficient as possible in what is probably the best and most adabtable language in the world.

    Finally, it would be nice to know who in fact did write these essays?

    1. No worries, Seth. Sorry that it has taken me awhile to get back to you. Yes, they are from somewhere else, can’t remember precisely where but have a vague recollection that they came from India. It appears that the marks on the page are an internal mark, rather than one delivered by the exam board, CIE. I am sorry to hear that you have a bad teacher, but it seems to me that you are really good at teaching yourself. I do agree that there is a tendency for students to go overboard in their written expression just to be impressive when in actual fact considerable clarity is lost in the message they are conveying. It is something that they do grow out of over time. My students are getting there 🙂 and we have had quite a few learning curves in that we all come from a variety of different educational experiences/backgrounds.

  5. Hi there,

    The main theme of this poem is the relationship between man and nature, right? Are there any underlying themes and ideas, such as the metaphysical etc.? If so, how are they portrayed and what do they mean (especially to the author)?

    Many thanks.

    1. I think it would be necessary to mention that ‘Freida’ is the poets daughter. Another theme is growing up, and the subliminal thoughts the speaker has about the young girl growing up to eventually become a woman. This idea is revealed by the symbolism of the moon, traditionally associated with womanhood. I think that there is something rather dark and foreboding about the poem.

  6. Hi,

    I want to thank you for the analysis that you shared. I find them extremely useful. As a foreign student, I always find it hard to capture what a certain poem is talking about and how the writer is using effective language. I am taking my CIE english lit exam next summer and I am not so sure how I can answer those essay questions. My teacher has gone through several poems yet I haven’t been taught the approach in answering literature questions. I was really worried. I hope you can give me some advice.

    Many thanks

  7. Just used this to write my essay plan for tomorrow 🙂 Absolutely great when struggling to compare Amends and Little Frieda Thanks so much

  8. Some excellent thoughts. I also have an essay on this poem at my own blog:

    I’d be delighted if you’d read my own thoughts.

    1. Hi L, I just read yours and sorry that I couldn’t leave a comment on your blog, but wanted to say that I thought it was excellent! I especially love how you keep so close to the language of the poem, analysing the affects so exquisitely. I am impressed by the fact that your tight analysis didn’t take away the spirit of both poems -‘Balloons’ included -but added so much too them. Excellent stuff, and thanks for sharing!!

  9. OMG this was helpful like really helpful 🙂
    thanks a lot you are like a last minute life saver
    i was wondering if you have any more last minute tips for studying a novel, stories , drama or even poems 🙂
    thanks a lot

  10. Thank you for such an informative analysis of Full Moon and Little Frieda, and if it is okay, may I use some of this for my LAMDA exam, on Wednesday 18th April 2012 (2 days away)? This has given me a better understanding of this wonderful poem!

  11. just a doubt to clarify, does the CIE examiner go through these interpretations, and then if candidates use these directly (memorizing) will they reduce marks ?

    1. All the stuff on this blog is really just to help us navigate through the pieces of literature studied -do not memorise this stuff, your ideas are extremely important!

  12. This was really helpful, especially the part about the “dark river of blood”. That bit was creepy, it gave a completely disturbing feel to an otherwise tranquil poem. The “gazing” moon only added to this sensation.

    I don’t really like this poem for 2 reasons:
    1- The first half had me imagining a farm, the picture of tranquility…and in the next half I pictured an assassin stalking a royal child in some lone rural setting in a fantasy novel. Maybe I need to sleep, it’s half past midnight up my end now anyway.
    2- It’s a waste of paper.

    My overactive imagination aside, thanks a lot for this analysis.

  13. Well, I am sitting for literature tomorrow, and truly this is very helpful, you cleaned up a lot of doubts I had about Full Moon and Little Frieda and I really apreciate it. Great work!

  14. hi coreachick
    your analysis of the full moon and little frieda is realy good…but i still dont get it can you break it down for me please 🙂

  15. iwant to say that the main concern of the poem of little freida and full moon that the poet portrays the moon as an artist has achieved in painting his first image describing the setting of the farm and movement of cows and that through when has found his first delight when his daughter begins to talk

  16. In Two Poems Explore In Detail Lines Which You Find Particularly Striking: In Two Poems
    In the poems Full Moon and Little Freida By Ted Hughes, and Time by Allen Curnow, there are many lines which are particularly striking. Time is represented by Curnow as everything, from the tiniest existence in our lives – dust, to the largest and most dominating thing on the planet – a mountain. It is personified into one superficial being – something that is responsible for our very own existence. Without time, nothing exists, making it god-like. Full Moon and Little Freida on the other hand, is an instantaneous snapshot of an evening with the poet’s infant daughter. Where the daughter is fascinated by the moon and reaches out for it.
    In Full Moon and Little Freida, one line I find most striking is the first stanza of the poem. “A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clang of a bucket – And you listening. A Spiders web tense for the dew’s touch.” This line is particularly striking because although it appears to be a simple introduction, it holds much more meaning. The evening has shrunk not only because the light is failing but also because, as it does so, time seems to slow down, as it ap¬proaches that crucial moment of nightfall, the first tremor of the first star. And the poet is aware that his daughter is the hand; pointing to that moment because she is open, without defences, without a distracting knowledge of past and future, to the scene, her fine web of senses perfectly tuned to it. This metaphor of the spider’s web is also a metaphor referring to Frieda’s fascinated mind and how it seems to trap the images around her, as well as it being delicate, being a young mind.
    Another important, if not THE most important line in the poem, is “‘Moon”! You suddenly cry, “Moon! Moon!” The Moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work of art that points at him amazed.’ It is almost comical how Hughes views Freida as a ‘mirror’ previously in the poem, that is gazing amazed at the moon, the largest reflecting object visible to the naked eye. The repetition of the ‘oo’ sound in ‘moon’ sounds as if Freida is exclaiming in fascination at the moon, now that she has discovered it exists. “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 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 bewilderment of the moon.
    In the poem Time, there is an abundance of meaningful lines, but one of the most striking are the lines in the 5th stanza “I, Time, am all these, yet these exist, Among my mountainous fabrics like a mist, So do they the measurable world resist.” It refers to itself as the only constant thing in the world, a mountain of firmness, with everything circling around in an uncertain mist. It is responsible for giving us memories, and is so great it is beyond anything human imagination can gather. By describing itself like this, it creates an impression upon us of being a mind-boggling controlling influence. Also, by referring to the “Mountainous Fabrics”, Curnow gives the reader the impression that time is the force, the fabric, which is holding the world together.
    Finally, both “Full Moon and Little Freida” and “Time” have important lines which are laden with meaning and thought. Both poems have an underlying tone which is only brought to surface when thoroughly examined and analysed. So in conclusion, , both Full Moon and Time are important poems with many different lines, each with its own special meaning, both “Full Moon” and “Time” are important poems with many significant lines, each with its own special meaning.

  17. This analysis of the poem is really beautiful and is in a very simple language………………….wish u all the very best!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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