The Nightingale and the Rose

by

Oscar Wilde

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The Nightingale and the Rose: Foreshadowing 1 key example

Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Foreshadowing
Explanation and Analysis—Helios and Echo:

The "Nightingale and the Rose" contains allusions to classical myths, creating a sense of timelessness and grandeur that elevates the story’s focus on love and sacrifice. When considering her sacrifice and musing on the beauty of life, the Nightingale talks about how pleasant life is, saying:

"Life is very dear to all. It is pleasant to sit in the green wood, and to watch the Sun in his chariot of gold, and the Moon in her chariot of pearl."

Here, the image of the sun in his chariot alludes to the ancient Greek god of the sun, Helios, who—according to myth—drove a fiery, horse-drawn chariot through the sky from east to west every day. This reference to mythology gives the Nightingale’s speech an agelessness that adds grandeur to the sacrifice she's about to make. The reference to Helios, who is a personification of the sun, also mirrors the whimsical world of "The Nightingale and the Rose," where every piece of nature has its own life and its own anthropomorphized personality.

The story alludes to another mythical figure, Echo, when describing the Nightingale’s final song:

The red rose heard it, and it trembled all over with ecstasy, and opened its petals to the cold morning air. Echo bore it to her purple cavern in the hills, and woke the sleeping shepherds from their dreams. It floated through the reeds of the river, and they carried its message to the sea. 

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the goddess Juno curses Echo, a nymph who uses conversation to distract her from finding out about her husband's affairs. When Juno realizes that Echo has been keeping her from discovering the truth, she curses Echo, making it so she can only speak by repeating the last few words somebody has said. This, in turn, makes it difficult for Echo to communicate with Narcissus, with whom she falls in love. Narcissus doesn't return her feelings, and he dies without ever reciprocating her love. In the aftermath of his death, Echo withers away until only her voice remains. By alluding to this story, "The Nightingale and the Rose" plays with the idea of unrequited love, since Echo (a rejected lover) is the one to carry the Nightingale's song through the land. In some ways, then, this allusion foreshadows the fact that the Student doesn't return the Nightingale's love, nor does the Professor's daughter return his love. 

The connection to the Metamorphoses—a collection of tales that depict the creation of the world through origin myths about shapeshifting—is also significant because the Nightingale’s blood gives life to the rose in this story. Just as Echo becomes an actual echo and Narcissus becomes a flower, the fact that the Nightingale wastes away in order to give life to the rose is also a form of transformation.