Allusion as a literary device| 6 examples in poetry

Allusion is a literary device is used towards a person, place, thing, or idea of history, culture, literary or political significance. This reference can be biblical, political, literary, or scientific. Here the users will find complete guidance of allusion as a literary device and its 6 examples in poetry.

Origin

It comes from the Late Latin word allusion meaning ‘a play on words.

Allusion as a literary device:

Allusion is a literary literary device , in which the indirect reference is used towards a person, place, thing, or idea of history, culture, literary or political significance. This reference can be biblical, political, literary, or scientific.

It does not describe the person or thing in detail rather it is only a routine comment that explains the current situation or idea.

Function of Allusion:

The writers or poets through allusion simplify the complex ideas. The use of allusion shortens their lengthy sentences and they can convey their feelings to the readers through hidden meanings.

On the other hand, readers try to understand these complex ideas by using references provided by the writers. They can better understand the writer’s feelings and emotions which he wants to convey through sentences.

Examples of Allusion:

‘Allusion’ is used in every daily life. Its purpose is not to directly pass a comment against a person, thing, or situation rather address them through hidden meanings.

• His house is the garden of Aden.
• Julia is the Einstein of this era.
• Earn money in this hard time is a hard nut to crack.
• This company has now become a white elephant.
• To pass the exam is a Herculean task for him.
• Doesn’t act like a Juliet in front of him.
• I am not agreed with your quixotic idea.

• There is a bad blood between these two brothers.
• Try to boil down your expenses.
• He is between the devil and the deep sea whether to go there or not.
• The ancestral house is a bone of contention between the two brothers.
• This police officer is a black sheep in the department.
• He takes a drink once in a blue moon.
• The investment in this company will prove a wild goose chase.
• This naughty boy is under a cloud after the incident of theft.

Examples in Literature:

Ode to the west wind by P.B. Shelley

Thou who dids’t waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay
Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams

Besides a pumice isle in Baiaes bay
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day

Here in the lines of the first stanza of the poem, the poet has created allusion to the west wind by considering it the force that has waked up the Mediterranean sea from its peaceful rest. He also refers to the ‘coil of his crystalline streams’ the resting place of Roman ancient which is now in motion because of the west wind.

In the second stanza, the allusion to Mediterranean Sea has been discussed and the poet considers it the ‘old palaces and towers’ which is in rest position and now he has been woken by the west wind.

Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare

But all so soon as the all cheering sun
Should in the farthest east begin to draw
The shady curtains from Aurora’s bed,

Here the allusion of ‘Aurora’s bed’ has been used by the writer. The ‘Aurora’s bed’ refers to the goddess of dawn in Roman which means that the sun is drawing the curtain from the bed of the goddess dawn.

Poison Tree by William Blake

And it grew both day and night
Till it bore an apple bright
Any my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine.

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree

Here the biblical reference has been used in the poem which has been taken from the ‘genesis’ chapter. The same reference has also been used by ‘John Milton’ in his ‘Paradise Lost’. How the Adam and Eve were sent to the earth when they were betrayed by the Satan to eat the prohibited apple in Heaven.

Similarly, the poet in ‘poison tree’ has used this reference indirectly by showing that how the enemy of the poet died due to eating poisoning apple.

The Good Morrow by John Donne

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved?
Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so, but this all pleasures fancies be.

Here in the poem, the poet has used allusion by referring to the old days tell his lovers to remember when they were the child who were not yet weaned off their mother’s breasts. He then refers to the days when they met with each other and they fall in love.

Antony & Cleopatra by Shakespeare

The shirt of Nessusis is upon me; teach me,
Alcides, thou mine ancestor, thy rage
Let me lodge Lichas on the horns o’ the moon
And with those hands that grasped the heaviest club
Subdue my worthiest self.

Here the ‘Shakespeare’ Antony & Cleopatra are the allusion characters of Heracles in Greek myth. ‘The shirt of Nessusis’ refers to the poisoned shirt that slew Heracles. ‘Antony’ compares himself with the Heracles who was killed by a poisoned shirt sent by his wife Deyanira.

Similarly, he considers that he has been betrayed by his lover Cleopatra which he was supposed to help him.

Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

What leaf fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?

Here the poet refers to the ‘tempe or the dales of Arcady. Tempe is meant by a valley in Greece while ‘arcady’ means ‘Arcaida’ which is also a place in Greece.

Allusion V. Metaphor

‘Allusion’ is an indirect reference towards things, ideas, or emotion. The reference may be used from some biblical, scientific or political reference. For example, “Julia is a Lady Diana in our house”.

In ‘metaphor’ we use to compare the two things without using the words, ‘like’ or ‘as’. It is a direct comparison between the two things. For example, “Man is a wolf”.

Further Reading:

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