10 Examples of Foreshadowing in Poetry

The Odyssey by Homer

“Great captain, a fair wind and the honey lights of home are all you seek.

But anguish lies ahead: the god who thunders on the land prepares it,

not to be shaken from your track, implacable, in rancor for the son whose eye you blinded… you’ll find the grazing herds of Helios

by whom all things are seen, all speech is known.

Avoid these kine, hold fast to your intent, and hard seafaring brings you all to Ithaca.

But if you raid the beeves, I see destruction for ship and crew.

Though you survive alone, bereft of all companions, lost for years… “

In the epic poem The Odyssey, Homer utilizes foreshadowing to foretell Odysseus’ fate in his quest to return home to Ithaca after the end of the Trojan War. For years, Odysseus has been continually thwarted in his attempts to reach Ithaca, and the goddess Circe tells Odysseus that he must consult with the spirit of the blind prophet Tiresias in the Land of the Dead in order to find his way home. This part of the poem utilizes prophecy to foreshadow Odysseus’ fate, with Tiresias revealing to him that he will continue to face many obstacles because of Poseidon’s revenge on Odysseus for blinding his son, the Cyclops Polyphemus. Tiresias also delivers a warning to Odysseus that if his men eat the cattle of the sun god Helios, Odysseus will be the only survivor to reach Ithaca.

Beowulf by Anonymous Anglo-Saxon Poet

“Shield was still thriving when his time came

and crossed over into the Lord’s Keeping.

His warrior band did what he bade them

when he laid down the law among the Danes:

they shouldered him out to the sea’s floor,

the chief they revered who had long ruled them.

A ring-whorled prow rode in the harbor,

Ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince.

They stretched their beloved lord in his boat…”

The introduction to Beowulf begins by describing this funeral ceremony for Shield Sheafson. A mighty warrior who instilled terror in rival tribes, he was well-known far and wide, and revered by his people as a hero and a good king. His son, Beow, is born before he dies, and he soon becomes the next revered hero of his people. The introduction of the epic poem Beowulf begins with the funeral ceremony for Shield Sheafson, which foreshadows the ending of the poem– Beowulf’s own funeral ceremony. Like his father, Beowulf is honored in his death because of his heroic exploits and adventures in which he kept his people safe.

The Book of the Duchess by Geoffrey Chaucer

“And with a deathly sorrowful sound

He made in rhyme ten verses or twelve

Of lamentation to himself,

Most pitiful, most full of ruth,

That ever I heard, for by my truth,

It was great wonder that Nature

Might suffer any creature

To have such sorrow and not be dead.”

After the poet reads the story of Ceyx and Alcyone, he falls asleep and dreams that he comes upon a black knight in the forest. The knight is incredibly depressed, and in these lines, it foreshadows the story of woe that he is about to impart to the poet. The knight is lamenting about losing a game of chess with Fortuna, or Fate, which the poet does not understand is a metaphorical game. The knight finally reveals to the poet that he lost the game, metaphorically speaking, when he lost his fair, white Queen. The poet then understands that the knight has lost the love of his life to death.

Paradise Lost by John Milton

“To whom thus Eve repli’d…

I thither went

With unexperienc’t thought, and laid me downe

On the green bank, to look in the the cleer

Smooth Lake, that to me seemd another Skie.

As I bent down to look, just opposite,

A Shape within the watry gleam appeerd

Bending to look on me, I started back,

It started back, but pleasd I soon returnd,

Pleas’d it returnd as soon with answering looks

Of sympathie and love…”

These lines from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, based on the Biblical story of the Fall of Mankind, shows Eve’s struggle with her own vanity. She sees her reflection in a lake and soon becomes enamored with her own appearance. Her ability to be swayed by beauty or by the promise of beautiful things foreshadows that she will soon be tempted by something more sinister: Satan himself. He promises Eve a beautiful life of knowledge, and uses her vanity against her with his skillful rhetoric.

The Wreck of the Hesperus by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Then up and spake an old Sailòr,

Had sailed to the Spanish Main,

‘I pray thee, put into yonder port,

For I fear a hurricane.

Last night, the moon had a golden ring,

And to-night no moon we see!’

The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,

And a scornful laugh laughed he.”

In these two stanzas from Longfellow’s narrative poem, the sailor tries to warn the old skipper that the weather is warning of a hurricane. Rather than listen to the sailor, the skipper laughs. Unfortunately, on this journey the skipper has brought his young daughter with him, and her life is in danger, too. The sailor’s words foreshadow impending doom for all of them due to this oncoming storm, but the skipper’s refusal to listen results in the deaths of him, his crew, and his little daughter.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“And now the storm-blast came, and he

Was tyrannous and strong:

He struck with his o’ertaking wings,

And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,

As who pursued with yell and blow

Still treads the shadow of his foe,

And forward bends his head,

The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,

And southward aye we fled.”

These stanzas from Coleridge’s narrative poem foreshadow the kind of journey the mariner and his crew undertake. They are driven into the Antarctic by storms, and led out of the ice by an albatross, whom the mariner shoots and angers the crew. The ship eventually comes upon another ship where Death and Life-in-Death are playing a game of dice, rolling for who gets the lives of the crew. Eventually, only the mariner survives this journey, and he is doomed to journey from place to place, telling his sad tale of woe which began with a ferocious and foreboding storm.

Out, Out– by Robert Frost

“And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,

As it ran light, or had to bear a load.

And nothing happened: day was all but done.

Call it a day, I wish they might have said

To please the boy by giving him the half hour

That a boy counts so much when saved from work.”

These lines from Robert Frost’s short narrative poem create a tone of regret, which creates a mood of suspense. The snarling and rattling give personification to the saw of having a life of its own, foreshadowing the outcome for the boy. The narrator laments he wishes could have called it a day a half-hour sooner, because of the grave events that come after. This lament comes from the narrator knowing that the boy would be killed by the saw, and wishing that the events of the day had played out differently for the boy.

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

“With tranquil air Oneguine leads

Tattiana to a corner, bids

Her on a shaky bench sit down;

His head sinks slowly, rests upon

Her shoulder–Olga swiftly came–

And Lenski followed– a light broke–

His fist Oneguine fiercely shook

And gazed around with eyes of flame;

The unbidden guests he roughly chids–

Tattiana motionless abides.

The strife grew furious and Eugene

Grasped a long knife and instantly

Struck Lenski dead– across the scene

Dark shadows thicken– a dread cry

Was uttered, and the cabin shook–

Tattiana terrified awoke.”

In these stanzas from Canto V of Eugene Onegin, Tattiana has a dream which foreshadows the battle between Eugene and Lenski. In her dream, they are fighting over her; however, in real life, Lenski challenges Eugene to a duel because he flirts with Lenski’s fiancé Olga to spite Tattiana’s advances. Eugene wins the duel against Lenski, much like he wins in the knife fight of Tattiana’s dream.

The Song of Roland by Turoldus

“Passes the day, the darkness is grown deep.

That Emeror, rich Charles, lies asleep;

Dreams that he stands in the great pass of Size,

In his two hands his ashen spear he sees;

Ganelon the count that spear from him doth seize,

Brandishes it and twists it with such ease,

The flown into the sky the flinders seem.

Charles sleeps on nor wakens from his dream.”

King Charles I has a particularly troubling dream the night before the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, in which Ganelon, Roland’s stepfather, takes the beech spear from his hands and brandishes it with such ease and force that splinters from the spear fly into the sky. This dream foreshadows Ganelon’s treachery, as he lets the Saracen fighters know where to attack because he knows Roland will be leading the rear flank of the army. This ambush leads to the defeat of Roland’s forces, and his death. It also foreshadows that Ganelon’s actions are paramount to treason, and he will ultimately be put to death.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

“Enkidu began to speak to Gilgamesh: ‘My brother, this night what a dream I dreamed!

The gods Anu, Enlil, Ea, and celestial Shamash held assembly, and Anu spoke until Enlil: “These, because they slew the Bull of Heaven, and slew Humbaba that guarded the mountains dense-wooded with cedar,” so said Anu, “between these two let one of them die!”

‘And Enlil said: “Let Enkidu die, but let not Gilgamesh die!”

‘Celestial Shamash began to reply to the hero Enlil: “Was it not at your word that they slew him, the Bull of Heaven– and also Humbaba? Now shall innocent Enkidu die?'”

‘Enlil was wroth at celestial Shamash: “How like a comrade you marched with them daily!”‘”

In the ancient Mesopotamian epic poem about King Gilgamesh and his beloved friend Enkidu, Enkidu recounts the dream which foreshadows his impending death. Because Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed Humbaba, Enlil wants revenge in the life of one of the two heroes, and he chooses Enkidu. Enkidu soon dies, setting Gilgamesh off on a quest to find the secret of immortality.

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