Allusion in poetry

Allusion, according to A literature manual 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 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 matter? I hear you whisper. Maybe he can answer your question better than your neighbor.

“Uh, well, I think maybe you’ve got something mixed up. Isn’t that an allusion to something you see that isn’t there?”

Thanks. I’m so glad you asked that question. Many people confuse the allusion with the illusion. An allusion is the reference to someone or something in literature or history. The illusion is something that is not actually seen or that does not really exist.

An example of an allusion would be something like “Like a modern day Daniel, the brave boy headed to the playground to confront the school bully.” The reference to Daniel from the Bible who faced hungry lions brings courage to mind. Another allusion could be “A man’s Paul Bunyon filled the little room.”

An illusion could 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 do a striptease on the front porch, illusions the result of an excess of 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 “A Daniel comes to trial.” TS Eliot uses a complex literary allusion in his The Waste Land and in his notes on that poem.

I use allusions from time to time, 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.)

Lost objects

The screams make the night dark

While chaos reigns in sleeping minds.

Fighting with resounding screams to conscience,

Those once numb are found

Now huddled in fear under the covers.

The fire flickers through the lids filter,

While the bravest than the rest look out

To glimpse shadows of nightmares

Lingering in the delight of tears flowing

On the cheeks of those who are too scared to run.

So faith extends its hopeful hand

Touch and tame the ghastly insanity

That only hell can bring those who live.

The hero of an existence full of 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 can heart and limb pain last forever?

The discomfort will increase every day

Until I don’t want to stay.

Talk about immortality

I could say hi to my grandchildren

Progeny for many years.

But when your time disappears

He would be overwhelmed with tears.

I could watch the story go by

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 that we now know.

I want to know that one day

I will be able to escape

To a place not filled with hate.

Who wants to live forever?

In a place of clear skies

Of endless love, peace and joy,

Sunlight shines without storm

Glory found in all its forms.

I will take life forever

In the place where he is alive

To know that everyone there

Doesn’t need to be separate

Nor will you ever feel imprisoned.

No pain, no disease, no tears

It will look much less known,

War, a word I didn’t even hear.

Yes i will live forever

I once crossed the Jordan River.

In the Bible, the Jordan River came to mean the river that crosses into the sky, thus representing death.

In the first poem, the allusion is added to the emotion of agony, pain, torture. However, in the second poem, the allusion is added to the images, but not exactly to the emotion.

So what allusion does an emotional image bring to mind? What does Sir Gallahad remind you of? Courage, love, knight in shining armor, everything comes to mind, emotional reactions.


The young man’s eyes shone

As I watched the golden curls

Peeking out from under his winter hat.

Since an eight-year-old is not poetic,

Made a ball with snow

And threw with all his might,

Knocking the hat off his head.

Imagine her surprise as she spun

And he returned fire, beating his chest,

Where love for her blossomed.

Through the years, fast friends

Became how they jumped

Hand in hand at school.

Her prom, she was his date

As he was to her the next day.

After he went to college,

Letters, like winged flames,

It flew from him to her every week.

Summer became a time of joy

As they rebuilt their love again.

In autumn, 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 came from her

Getting 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 one came home

To find your lost love not only

Another’s wife, but a mother.

He stood at the bottom

Knowing that her husband could be ruined.

He had the means; had hatred.

Then he saw her face in his mind

And I packed up the hate

Died the other day

A driver did not stop or stop.

Many attended the funeral

With a woman in the background.

Piled up and shed tears

Before he cleaned his face

He turned around and slipped away.

Only later did she know

He left her not only his heart

But everything he had.

Unknown to her, he had been more,

His Sir Galahad: Although he wore

A rusty and tarnished armor.

I hope you try to use the allusion in your poetry, to give it a touch of imagery, but also try to see if the device can add a dose of emotion.

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