Published in 1967 as part of the anthology Wodwo, Hughes’ ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ describes Frieda Hughes’ exploration of the natural world around her. Hughes uses natural imagery, onomatopoeia, and metaphors to immerse the reader into the poem. Hughes laments the premature maturation of his daughter due to her mother’s death but admires her curiosity and perseverance.
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‘Full Moon and Little Frieda‘ contrasts innocence and maturity, as well as nature and humanity.
‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ effectively uses natural imagery and descriptive language to set the tone and atmosphere for the poem. The first stanza introduces several animals and household objects, evoking a sense of familiarity. Hughes uses metaphors to compare everyday occurrences to Frieda’s strength, as well as give insight into the family history. The second stanza has an ominous atmosphere, wherein Hughes effectively uses contrasting colors and imagery to create suspense and tension. In the last lines of the stanza, Frieda seems to pull Hughes out of deep thought by repeatedly exclaiming ‘moon.’ Hughes admires his daughter’s simple and raw outlook on the world. The final stanza collocates Hughes’ amazement with Frieda’s uncomplicated worldview with his ability to create a person that, while being fragile and small in stature, is incredibly resilient.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Rhyme Scheme
‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ consists of three stanzas: two quintets and a couplet. The poem lacks a consistent meter or rhyme scheme, making it a free verse poem. The tone of the poem is conversational and curious. Frieda’s outlook on the world fascinates Hughes. The irregular structure reflects the chaotic mind of a child absorbing the world around them. The use of descriptive language and punctuation is effective in immersing the reader in the poem. Hughes wrote the poem in the second-person narrative: Hughes addresses Frieda in the second stanza.
‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ explores the themes of childhood, nature, and trauma. Hughes follows Frieda’s observation of the world around her: the moon, the animals, the spider webs. He compares the childlike wonder of Frieda at the natural world, comparing it to his own deep and complex view of life.
Literary Devices & Punctuation
- A metaphor is the creation of comparison without the use of prepositions. Hughes uses a metaphor in the last stanza, referring to the moon as an artist.
- Imagery is visually descriptive language that immerses the reader into the poem. Hughes uses natural imagery in the first stanza when writing about a dog and spiderwebs. Moreover, he uses color imagery when writing about the dark river of blood.
- Anaphora is the repetition of words or phrases for emphasis. Hughes uses an anaphora in the second stanza when Frieda exclaims ‘Moon!’ multiple times.
- Onomatopoeia is the use of language that describes sounds—Hughes an onomatopoeia in the first stanza when referring to a bucket clank and a dog’s bark.
- Enjambment is the lack of punctuation at the end of the line, allowing the sentence to continue across multiple lines. Hughes uses an enjambment at the end of the first stanza when comparing a pail to a mirror.
- Caesura is the use of punctuation in the middle of a line for emphasis and rhythm break. Hughes uses caesura in the first stanza to further describe a spider web.
A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket –
To tempt a first star to a tremor.
The first stanza of ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ consists of 5 lines. Hughes uses visually descriptive language to bring up a series of images that describe the evening.
Dog and Bucket
The use of ‘small’ and ‘shrunk’ mirrors Frieda’s small frame. The child would have been an infant, so an evening shrinking to fit Frieda’s perspective is fitting. In the first line of the stanza, Hughes describes two auditory stimulations: a dog’s bark and the clanging of a bucket. Although hearing is the second-to-last sense to develop, it develops fully, whereas the other senses take additional months to develop fully. Hence it is appropriate to introduce the auditory stimuli first.
Moreover, the images are commonly familiar to children: kids often play with toy shovels and buckets and get introduced to pets. Infant Frieda would have likely been acquainted with the two when Hughes wrote the poem.
Frieda listens intently to the sounds of the evening: trying to decipher and commit them to memory.
The third line of the stanza introduces a new image: a spiderweb covered in dew. The image is incredibly symbolic: spiderwebs are several times stronger than steel despite being feather-light. Just as spiderwebs are considerably stronger than they look, so too is Frieda not as fragile as she appears. However, the implication that the spiderweb strains under the weight of dew mirrors Frieda’s delicacy. The juxtaposition is compelling: despite bending under a droplet, the spiderweb is tougher than most metals. The same beautiful paradox can be extended to the women in Hughes’ life: despite their small stature, they are incredibly resilient. For context: Plath battled post-partum depression after Frieda’s birth, the nature of which is explored in her poem ‘Morning Song.’
In the last two lines of the first stanza, Hughes brings up a pail: a cylindrical object with a handle, synonymous with the bucket that he mentioned in the first line. A pail is typically used to gather milk from bovines and other cattle. Perhaps Hughes is referencing the breastfeeding process: while Plath went through post-partum depression, she felt highly detached from her daughter, viewing any motherly duties as lacking affection. Hence, the comparison of Frieda getting milk from her mother is akin to getting milk from a cow: something that must be done, devoid of loving feelings.
Hughes describes the pail as still enough to mirror stars: a compelling connection between humanity and nature, being tied down with emotional and materialistic possessions versus floating in space, obeying no one. Hughes inadvertently connects Frieda and the stars by connecting the pail and bucket. The connection between humanity and the cosmos is a recurring theme in the Plath-Hughes family. For example, Plath’s ‘The Night Dances’ is a poem about the fragility of life compared to the infinity of space.
Hughes is waiting for a star to tremor: to move in anticipation and excitement at seeing Frieda. The line is a subtle proclamation of admiration and love: Hughes does not doubt that his daughter can make immobile, faraway objects tremble.
The use of punctuation in this stanza is a mix between caesura and enjambment, which creates a conversational, relaxed tone. Hughes’ use of visually descriptive language and familiar imagery effectively immerses the reader in the poem.
Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
‘Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon! Moon!’
The second stanza of ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ opens up with natural imagery: cows pass by the house, indicating that Hughes and Frieda are in the countryside. Moreover, the cows coming home is a common idiom, meaning taking a long time. Hughes used the phrasing to emphasise how young Frieda is: she is barely a child; hence her experiences seemingly last longer. She is not yet concerned with a myriad tasks and responsibilities, allowing her to take things as they come.
The cows’ breath blurs the edges of shrubs, creating a murky visual. The ‘wreaths of breath’ is a direct mirror of Plath’s ‘Sheep In Fog’ wherein she mentioned that a passing train leaves a line of breath.
Blood and Boulders
The imagery suddenly gets ominous, coming into sharp focus. Blood is distinctly visible despite the cows’ breath blurring the lines of hedges.
‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ was published in 1967, four years after Sylvia Plath’s suicide. One of the theories is that the ‘dark river of blood’ is a clear allusion to her death. Other critics, however, consider the poem written in 1961, hence making the blood river about Plath’s miscarriage.
The boulders refer to the mental and physical challenges that Sylvia Plath had to endure. In 1961, she suffered a miscarriage, one that Hughes was allegedly the cause of. She has tried to kill herself three times in her life, ultimately succeeding in February 1963, after the divorce. Hughes had an extramarital affair with Assia Wevill, refusing to end it when Plath confronted him. After the divorce in the winter of 1962, Plath was left with two children while battling severe manic depression, which made her mood uncontrollable and volatile.
Hughes reintroduces the milk reference in the second-to-last line of the stanza, therefore making a subtle connection between the two stanzas. The ‘unspilled milk’ refers to Plath’s inability to spend more time with her children. Not only can she not spend time with Frieda and Nicholas, she never even met her unborn child; hence her milk being unspilled.
The stark contrast between a dark river of blood and unspilled milk is appalling. Not only are the colors on the opposite ends of the spectrum (dark river versus the crisp white of milk), but also the compelling contrast of violence versus peace. Mammals produce milk to feed their young, connotating a precious motherly moment, whereas blood has distinctly violent implications of death. By juxtaposing the two, Hughes creates a highly effective visual.
In the last line of the second stanza of ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’, Hughes explores Frieda’s reaction to seeing the moon. The child is not yet developed enough to realise the implications of her mother being gone, instead focusing on what’s in front of her. Moreover, Hughes creates a tense atmosphere, first with the mention of blood, then contrasting it with the stark white of the milk, and finally with a child’s high-pitched exclamation.
Hughes collocates the complex topic of death and loss with his daughter, simply observing the world, making no assumptions or analyzing. The use of juxtaposition is refreshing after the discussion of a topic as serious as suicide and miscarriage.
The use of ‘suddenly’ indicates that Hughes was lost in thought, and Frieda’s exclamation brought him back. The repetition of ‘moon’ effectively portrays Frieda’s childlike wonder and excitement upon looking at the moon.
Feminity and Motherhood
The use of ‘moon’ rather than stars or something similar is deliberate: the moon is not only a widely known symbol for femininity but also for motherhood. The moon signifies Frieda inevitably maturing much faster than anticipated due to Plath’s death.
Moreover, the moon being a symbol of motherhood is compelling: despite the moon being visible most nights, the majority of people will never get close: it is a nostalgically beautiful, faraway object that cannot grant feelings or affection, no matter the excitement or desire. Plath will never be with Frieda again; only memories and stories of her remain; Frieda will never experience her mother’s love. This mirrors the centuries-long fascination with the moon in many cultures: thousands of people have created art seemingly dedicated to the moon: sonnets (‘A Sonnet of The Moon’ by Charles Best), songs, poetry (‘To The Moon’); and yet they have never been close enough actually to experience it.
The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.
The third and final stanza of ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ consists of only two lines. In the stanza, Hughes personifies the moon, giving it human qualities of movement, observation, and feeling emotions.
While the moon is commonly referred to as ‘she,’ Hughes chose to give the moon masculine pronouns. Therefore this suggests that Hughes views himself as the moon, in which case the ‘work’ is literal, as Frieda is quite literally his creation. He is obviously older than her, hence having more experience and knowledge; hence the comparison to the ancient moon is relevant.
The moon, a metaphorical artist, has stepped back to admire his work. The moon is impressed with its creation, observing it, amazed. Hughes has created highly compelling mirror imagery: the moon is impressed with Frieda, while Frieda is impressed with the moon. This is effective as it brings up the theme of the continuation of art through time, of subjective beauty and reciprocation.
The moon is several billion years old, yet it marvels at a toddler. Frieda, in turn, is a child who appreciates the moon with raw emotion and excitement, not cloaked in years of knowledge and research. The mutual feeling of wonderment is an effective way to conclude the poem.
The poem ‘Full Moon and little Frieda’ is believed to having been written in 1961 and published in 1967 in Hughes’ anthology Wodwo.
The poem ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ is about Frieda Hughes, the firstborn child of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. She was born in April 1960. Moreover, the poem mentions Plath’s death and the miscarriage she suffered in 1961. Overall, the poem focuses on maturity, nature, and the fragility of human existence.
In May of 1962, just months after Nicholas Hughes was born, Ted Hughes met Assia Wevill, a German poet, and fell in love with her. Hughes had an extramarital affair with Wevill, ultimately choosing her over Plath when the latter found out. Upon rejecting the demand to end the affair, Plath and Hughes got divorces and Plath got the custody of Frieda and Nicholas.
If you enjoyed ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ consider exploring the following poems:
- ‘The Night Dances’ by Sylvia Plath explores the fragility of life and laments adulting and the loss of childhood.
- ‘The Harvest Moon’ by Ted Hughes describes the awe of different creatures at the autumnal-equinox moon.
- ‘The Writer’ by Richard Wilbur reflects on the excitement a father feels at his daughter creating her own art.