allusion in poetry
reference, according to a handbook to literature by C. Hugh Holman, The Odyssey Press, “is a figure of speech that makes a casual reference to a famous historical or literary figure or event.” According to the definitions in various literature and composition textbooks, an allusion is the casual reference to a figure or event in history or literature that creates a mental image in the mind of the reader.
All right, young man in the back, what’s the problem? I hear you whisper. Maybe I can answer your question better than your neighbor.
“Uh, well, I just think maybe you’ve got something mixed up. Isn’t that an allusion to something you see that isn’t there?”
Thank you. I’m so glad you asked that question. Many people confuse allusion and illusion. An allusion is a reference to someone or something in literature or history. The illusion is something that is not actually seen or does not really exist.
An example of an allusion would be something like “Like a modern-day Daniel, the brave boy walked to the playground to confront the school bully.” The reference to the Bible’s Daniel facing off against hungry lions brings bravery to mind. Another allusion might be “The Paul Bunyon of a man filled the little room.”
An illusion might be ‘Jim Ross told everyone about the flying saucer he saw in the night sky.’ His wife shook her head in disbelief. ‘You also say you saw me striptease on the front porch, illusions the result of over- drinking that concoction you make in the garage.
Writers, especially poets, often allude to biblical characters and events. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare used the line “Daniel come to judgment.” TS Eliot uses a complex literary allusion in his The Waste Land and in his notes on that poem.
I occasionally use allusion, as in the following poems, and many times I allude to something biblical as I do in these. (All poetry is copyrighted by Vivian Gilbert Zabel.)
The screams make the night dark
While chaos reigns in sleeping minds.
Fighting resounding screams to conscience,
Those who once slept are found
Now cowering in fear under the covers.
The fire flickers through the filter of the eyelids,
While the brave than the rest lean out
To glimpse shadows of nightmares
Lingering in the delight of tears
On the cheeks of those too scared to run.
So faith extends its hopeful hand
To touch and tame the ghastly madness
That only Hell can bring those who live.
The hero of an existence filled with demons.
He is the one who loves man the most.
The allusion to Hell recalls the agony found there.
Live for ever
Who wants to live forever?
So heart and limb pain can last forever?
The discomfort will grow every day
Until I don’t want to stay.
talk about immortality,
I was able to greet my grandchildren
progeny for many years.
But when his time disappears,
I would be filled with tears.
I could watch history unfold
With war, disease, desolation.
Leaders would rise and then fall
Bringing hope, sometimes despair,
But never lasting care.
I don’t want to live forever
Not in this world we now know.
I want to know that one day
will i be able to escape
To a place not filled with hate.
Who wants to live forever?
In a place of cloudless skies,
Of love, peace and endless joy,
The sunlight shines without storm,
Glory found in every form.
I will take life forever
In the place where He is alive,
Know that everyone there
No need to part
Nor ever feel imprisoned.
No pain, no sickness, no tears
It will look much less known,
War, a word not even heard.
Yes, I will live forever.
I once crossed the Jordan River.
In the Bible, the Jordan River came to mean the river that one crosses to Heaven, so it represents death.
In the first poem, the allusion is added to the emotion of agony, pain, torture. However, in the second poem, the allusion adds to the imagery but not exactly to the emotion.
So what allusion brings to mind an emotional image? What does Sir Gallahad bring to mind? Courage, love, knight in shining armor, everything comes to mind, emotional reactions.
The young man’s eyes shone.
As I spied the golden curls
Peeking out from under her winter hat.
As an eight year old child is not poetic,
He packed snow into a ball
And he pulled with all his might,
Knocking the hat off his head.
Imagine his surprise as he turned
And returned fire, beating his chest,
Where love for her flourished.
Over the years fast friends
They turned as they jumped
Hand in hand through school.
His prom, she was his date,
As he was to her the next.
After he went to college,
Letters, like winged flames,
He flew from him to her every week.
Summer became a time of joy.
As they rebuilt their love again.
In the fall, they had to part once more,
He went back to the next level;
She, to the university of the city.
Once full of love and laughter,
Messages from your camera
Slower and shorter.
Soon, for Christmas, they stopped.
At the end of the semester, he heard
She gave her love to another.
His heart turned to stone.
Years passed, he made a fortune,
But he never had a family.
At last the lonely came home
To find his lost love not only
Wife of another, but mother.
He stayed in the background
Knowing that her husband might be broke.
He had the means; she had the hate.
Then he saw her face in his mind.
And he kept the hate.
He died the other day
A driver did not pull over or stop.
Many attended the funeral.
With a woman in the back.
Tears accumulated and spilled
Before he wiped his face,
He turned around and ran away.
Only later did she know
He left her not only his heart
But all he had.
Unknown to her, he had been more,
Her Sir Galahad: Though he wore
A rusty and tarnished armor.
I hope you will try to use allusion in your poetry, for a touch of imagery if nothing else, but also try to see if the device can add a dose of emotion.