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.