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A Stylistic Analysis On The Nightingale

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3912 words Published: 14th Apr 2017

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Stylistics refers to stylistic study specially. The aim of the stylistic study is to interpret the literary meaning and aesthetic effect of literature texts linguistically. There are many definitions on the stylistics. Leech and Short defined that “Compared with many other studies, literary stylistics is a new science, a linguistic approach towards literature works. It applies theories of modern linguistics to the study of literature and attempts to relate the critic’s concern with aesthetic appreciation and the readers’ intuition with the linguist’s concern with linguistic description”.  This thesis mainly depends on Xu Youzhi’s view on stylistics. He said(2005: 1). The stylistics we are discussing here is modern stylistics, a discipline that applies concepts and techniques of modern linguistics to the study of styles of language use. It has two subdivisions: general stylistics and literary stylistics, with the latter concentrating solely on unique features of various literary works, and the former on the general features of various types of language use.” That is to say, stylistics goes beyond the linguistic description of the literature texts; its final purpose is to relate literary effects to relevant linguistic causes. It is the most explored section in the stylistic domain.

The Concern of Stylistic

The style is a pattern of linguistic features distinguishing one piece of writing from another or one category of writing from another. A writer’s style often varies from work to work; there is usually enough uniformity in one’s article to allow the readers to observe that this overall style differs from the other’s style.

In the study of stylistics, the concern is mainly on the usage of stylistics, which is a discipline that studies the sum of stylistic features of the different varieties of language, the language, aspects of the speech event, language varieties and function, stylistic study and other spheres of study. “Stylistic study concerns itself with the situational features that influence variations in language use, the criterion for the classification of language variety, and the description and interpretation of the linguistic features and functions of the main varieties (both literary and non-literary) of a language. “Xu Youzhi (2005: 7)

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Brief account of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, known for his acerbic and urbane nonfiction, was also a master of fairy tale. While some of his inimitable irony remains, Wilde created lovely tales filled with princes and nightingales mermaids, giants, and kings. In fact, all of his fairy tales are written in an erudite, aesthetic voice. As one of the representatives of Aestheticism, his fairy tales are studied as a model of Aestheticism in terms of style. Wilde showed the particular appeal of language to the readers and made the literature¼Œthe art of language more charming. His fairy tales is characteristic of making use of rhetoric means and ironic humor to convey its theme, such as love or art and the spirit of self-sacrifice as in The Nightingale and the Rose.

Brief account of The Nightingale and the Rose and its major theme

The Nightingale and the Rose was published in 1888. In the story, a student fell in love with a professor’s daughter who wouldn’t want to dance with him in the prince’s ball, unless he can find a red rose for her to wear. Because of cold weather, it is hard for the student to find a red rose for the girl, “the need of a red rose made his life wretched”. When the nightingale heard of his sorrow, he was moved by the girl’s passion and “true love”. The bird decided to sacrifice himself just for exchanging a red rose. Tragically, the red rose ended up under the wheel of a cart, because the professor’s daughter really wanted was ascendancy and wealth.

Oscar Wilde has great passion for love and has been persistently pursuing it for his whole short life. In the famous fairy tale The Nightingale and The Rose, the nightingale became his tongue and mouth. She sang to death with a thorn in her heart for the passion which she thought was the most precious thing in the whole world. Her passion is pure passion, and she doesn’t want anything in return except that the student should be a true lover.

All he wrote in this tale like an ill omen in his later life. The passion of nightingale reflects the deep theme Art is for Art’s Sake. It also shows Wilde’s aestheticism in its ongoing conflict with utilitarianism. What he did for his love is like what the nightingale did for the student. However, all she did was in vain, because although the student listened, he couldn’t understand what the nightingale was saying to him, for he only knew the things that are written down in books. And the red rose- -the fruit of great passion – – was thrown away into the gutter for something unworthy.

5.1.1. Phonological features

In the description of The Nightingale and the Rose¼ŒWilde applies onomatopoeia to make the vivid and lively description. It is very helpful to describe the different characters’ inner mental activities thoroughly and show the exact feelings, respectively. (Zou Tao, 2003) For example:

“The prince gives a ball to-morrow night,” murmured the young Student.

In this sentence, it is just by using the word”murmur”to show the student’s feelings of grievance and helplessness. Responding to the word murmur¼Œthe word “tomorrow” may be twisted as to-morrow and the normal pronunciation of it is changed into/tu:mo rou/.Because the vowel sound/ u:/and the diphthong are usually connected with the words blue and low respectively, naturally we can imagine the student’s feelings of anxiousness, fret as well as his low spirits .

5.1.2. Lexical Features

The words used in the fairy story are accurate, vivid, expressive and plentiful. There is a sentence listed below to illustrate the lexical features.

Her hand will be clasped in mine.

Here, “clasp” means to hold tightly. But why does not the author use the word “grip” or “grasp”? This word is powerful enough to express the student’s strongest passion and love to the Professor’s daughter. And the action of the word clasp is also capable of revealing the student’s eagerness as well as his beautiful daydreaming.

5.1.3. Syntactic Feature

The syntactic features of the tale are that the short but elliptical sentences are applied frequently. The language is very clear and easy to be understood, which makes the tale more close to the readers. It is featured by the colloquial style. According to Wang Shouyuan (1990:52), ellipsis is the omission from a sentence of words needed to complete a construction. Ellipsis in spoken English and normal everyday written discourse is usually a grammatical device for economy of words. In literature, ellipsis is not merely a grammatical means to make the work compact, but a stylistic device to express the meaning or message of the work. For example:

“No red rose in all my garden!” He cried.

“Why, indeed?” said a Butterfly.

The complete sentence should be “There is no red rose in all my garden”. While “Why, indeed?” should be “Why is he weeping, indeed?” These elliptical sentences have the same expressive effect as a whole. The ellipsis here, from a stylistic perspective¼Œseems to be multifunctional

Moreover, in this tale, Oscar Wilde also used inversion devices to make the languages rich and colorful. Here are some syntactic parallel constructions to show the inversion. For example:

… louder and louder grew her song ,

… bitter and bitter was the pain¼Œwilder and wilder grew her song

…. fainter and fainter grew her song.

The above sentences are inverted, but they are more important in view of parallelism. When we read, the tone is up and down with strong rhythm. It gives us a musical effect to the readers.

5.1.4. Semantic features/figures of speech

In the tale, Oscar Wilde uses many figures of speech to accomplish the semantic expressions. Personification is a typical rhetorical device in fairy tales. In the fairy tale, the Nightingale just symbolizes Oscar Wilde himself, and the Rose stands for the true love and the true art. Furthermore, this tale also applied simile¼Œmetaphor¼Œand antithesis¼Œwhich make the language diversified and beautiful. Here lists some examples excerpted from this tale to illustrate the semantic features in the tale.

1) She sang first of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl.

2) She sang of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and a maid.

3) She sang of the Love is perfected by Death of the Love that dies not in the tomb.

These three sentences run through the whole process of the tale, in which the Nightingale fostered the red rose by heart and blood, accompanied with her sad and moving songs. The readers are moved not by birth¼Œneither love nor death, but by the determination and devotion to foster the true love perfected by death. (Zou Tao, 2003)

5.2. Conclusion

The style of the language that Oscar Wilde applied is tactful in The Nightingale and the Rose. Oscar Wilde has set a brilliant example of achieving the delicate harmony between the language and his own artistic view. For Oscar Wilde¼Œthe purest art is worthy of his life and is the highest in society. This paper mainly adopts the pattern for stylistic analysis in Xu Youzhi’s book English Stylistics, to illustrate this tale which may give readers a new angle to know better about Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale.



“She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses,” cried the young Student; “but in all my garden there is no red rose.”

From her nest in the holm-oak tree the Nightingale heard him, ands he looked out through the leaves, and wondered.

“No red rose in all my garden!” he cried, and his beautiful eyes filled with tears. “Ah, on what little things does happiness depend! I have read all that the wise men have written, and all the secrets of philosophy are mine, yet for want of a red rose is my life made wretched.”

“Here at last is a true lover,” said the Nightingale. “Night after night have I sung of him, though I knew him not: night after night have I told his story to the stars, and now I see him. His hair is dark as the hyacinth-blossom, and his lips are red as the rose of his desire; but passion has made his face like pale ivory, and sorrow has set her seal upon his brow.”

“The Prince gives a ball to-morrow night,” murmured the young Student, “and my love will be of the company. If I bring her a red rose she will dance with me till dawn. If I bring her a red rose, I shall hold her in my arms, and she will lean her head upon my shoulder, and her hand will be clasped in mine. But there is no red rose in my garden, so I shall sit lonely, and she will pass me by. She will have no heed of me, and my heart will break.”

“Here indeed is the true lover,” said the Nightingale. “What I sing of, he suffers–what is joy to me, to him is pain. Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals. Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the marketplace. It may not be purchased of the merchants, nor can it be weighed out in the balance for gold.”

“The musicians will sit in their gallery,” said the young Student, “and play upon their stringed instruments, and my love will dance to the sound of the harp and the violin. She will dance so lightly that her feet will not touch the floor, and the courtiers in their gay dresses will throng round her. But with me she will not dance, for I have no red rose to give her”; and he flung himself down on the grass, and buried his face in his hands, and wept.

“Why is he weeping?” asked a little Green Lizard, as he ran past him with his tail in the air.

“Why, indeed?” said a Butterfly, who was fluttering about after a sunbeam.

“Why, indeed?” whispered a Daisy to his neighbor, in a soft, low voice.

“He is weeping for a red rose,” said the Nightingale.

“For a red rose?” they cried; “how very ridiculous!” and the little Lizard, who was something of a cynic, laughed outright.

But the Nightingale understood the secret of the Student’s sorrow, and she sat silent in the oak-tree, and thought about the mystery of Love.

Suddenly she spread her brown wings for flight, and soared into the air. She passed through the grove like a shadow, and like a shadow she sailed across the garden.

In the centre of the grass-plot was standing a beautiful Rose-tree, and when she saw it she flew over to it, and lit upon a spray.

“Give me a red rose,” she cried, “and I will sing you my sweetest song.”

But the Tree shook its head.

“My roses are white,” it answered; “as white as the foam of the sea, and whiter than the snow upon the mountain. But go to my brother who grows round the old sun-dial, and perhaps he will give you what you want.”

So the Nightingale flew over to the Rose-tree that was growing round the old sun-dial.

“Give me a red rose,” she cried, “and I will sing you my sweetest


But the Tree shook its head.

“My roses are yellow,” it answered; “as yellow as the hair of the mermaiden who sits upon an amber throne, and yellower than the daffodil that blooms in the meadow before the mower comes with his scythe. But go to my brother who grows beneath the Student’s window, and perhaps he will give you what you want.”

So the Nightingale flew over to the Rose-tree that was growing beneath the Student’s window.

“Give me a red rose,” she cried, “and I will sing you my sweetest song.”

But the Tree shook its head.

“My roses are red,” it answered, “as red as the feet of the dove, and redder than the great fans of coral that wave and wave in the ocean-cavern. But the winter has chilled my veins, and the frost has nipped my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year.”

“One red rose is all I want,” cried the Nightingale, “only one red rose! Is there no way by which I can get it?”

“There is away,” answered the Tree; “but it is so terrible that I dare not tell it to you.”

“Tell it to me,” said the Nightingale, “I am not afraid.”

“If you want a red rose,” said the Tree, “you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s-blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.”

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“Death is a great price to pay for a red rose,” cried the Nightingale, “and 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. Sweet is the scent of the hawthorn, and sweet are the bluebells that hide in the valley, and the heather that blows on the hill. Yet Love is better than Life, and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?”

So she spread her brown wings for flight, and soared into the air. She swept over the garden like a shadow, and like a shadow she sailed through the grove.

The young Student was still lying on the grass, where she had left him, and the tears were not yet dry in his beautiful eyes.

“Be happy,” cried the Nightingale, “be happy; you shall have your red rose. I will build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with my own heart’s-blood. All that I ask of you in return is that

you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty. Flame-colored are his wings, and colored like flame is his body. His lips are sweet as honey, and his breath is like frankincense.”

The Student looked up from the grass, and listened, but he could not understand what the Nightingale was saying to him, for he only knew the things that are written down in books.

But the Oak-tree understood, and felt sad, for he was very fond of the little Nightingale who had built her nest in his branches.

“Sing me one last song,” he whispered; “I shall feel very lonely when you are gone.”

So the Nightingale sang to the Oak-tree, and her voice was like water bubbling from a silver jar.

When she had finished her song the Student got up, and pulled a note-book and a lead-pencil out of his pocket.

“She has form,” he said to himself, as he walked away through the grove–“that cannot be denied to her; but has she got feeling? I am afraid not. In fact, she is like most artists; she is all

style, without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish. Still, it must be admitted that she has some beautiful notes in her voice. What a pity it is that they do not mean anything, or do any practical good.” And he went into his room, and lay down on his little pallet-bed, and began to think of his love; and, after a time, he fell asleep.

And when the Moon shone in the heavens the Nightingale flew to the Rose-tree, and set her breast against the thorn. All night long she sang with her breast against the thorn, and the cold crystal

Moon leaned down and listened. All night long she sang, and the thorn went deeper and deeper into her breast, and her life-blood ebbed away from her.

She sang first of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl. And on the top-most spray of the Rose-tree there blossomed a marvelous rose, petal following petal, as song followed song. Pale was it, at first, as the mist that hangs over the river-pale as the feet of the morning, and silver as the wings of the dawn. As the shadow of a rose in a mirror of silver, as the shadow of a

rose in a water-pool, so was the rose that blossomed on the topmost

spray of the Tree.

But the Tree cried to the Nightingale to press closer against the thorn. “Press closer, little Nightingale,” cried the Tree, “or the Day will come before the rose is finished.”

So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and louder and louder grew her song, for she sang of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and a maid.

And a delicate flush of pink came into the leaves of the rose, like the flush in the face of the bridegroom when he kisses the lips of the bride. But the thorn had not yet reached her heart, so the

rose’s heart remained white, for only a Nightingale’s heart’s-blood can crimson the heart of a rose.

And the Tree cried to the Nightingale to press closer against the thorn. “Press closer, little Nightingale,” cried the Tree, “or the Day will come before the rose is finished.”

So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and the thorn touched her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shot through her. Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang of the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb.

And the marvelous rose became crimson, like the rose of the eastern sky. Crimson was the girdle of petals, and crimson as a ruby was the heart.

But the Nightingale’s voice grew fainter, and her little wings began to beat, and a film came over her eyes. Fainter and fainter grew her song, and she felt something choking her in her throat.

Then she gave one last burst of music. The white Moon heard it, and she forgot the dawn, and lingered on in the sky. 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.

“Look, look!” cried the Tree, “the rose is finished now”; but the Nightingale made no answer, for she was lying dead in the long grass, with the thorn in her heart.

And at noon the Student opened his window and looked out.

“Why, what a wonderful piece of luck!” he cried; “here is a red rose! I have never seen any rose like it in all my life. It is so beautiful that I am sure it has a long Latin name”; and he leaned

down and plucked it.

Then he put on his hat, and ran up to the Professor’s house with the rose in his hand.

The daughter of the Professor was sitting in the doorway winding blue silk on a reel, and her little dog was lying at her feet.

“You said that you would dance with me if I brought you a red rose,” cried the Student. “Here is the reddest rose in all the world. You will wear it to-night next your heart, and as we dance together it will tell you how I love you.”

But the girl frowned.

“I am afraid it will not go with my dress,” she answered; “and, besides, the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.”

“Well, upon my word, you are very ungrateful,” said the Student angrily; and he threw the rose into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cart-wheel went over it.

“Ungrateful!” said the girl. “I tell you what, you are very rude; and, after all, who are you? Only a Student. Why, I don’t believe you have even got silver buckles to your shoes as the Chamberlain’s

nephew has”; and she got up from her chair and went into the house.

“What I a silly thing Love is,” said the Student as he walked away. “It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything, and it is always telling one of things that are not going to happen, and making one believe things that are not true. In fact, it is quite unpractical, and, as in this age to be practical is everything, I shall go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.”

So he returned to his room and pulled out a great dusty book, and began to read.


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