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Allusion is a word or expression used recalls to one mind some notable character, memorable event, historical facts and characters, mythological facts and characters, legend, writing, or saying of the past.
“An allusion”, Fowler explains, “is a covert or indirect reference, in which the application of a generality to the person or thing it is really aimed at, or the identification of something that the speaker or writer appears by his words to have in mind but does not name, is left for the hearer or reader to make; it is never an outright or explicit mention.”
What is an Allusion?
Allusion is a figurative language in which a passing but significant reference of an indirect kind, is made to a well-known person, place, event.
Sometimes, a word or expression brings to the mind of a hearer or reader some great character, remarkable incident of the past, a legend or the saying or writing of some great man. The use of such a word or expression is included in the list of figures under the title ‘Allusion’.
Some examples of allusions are given below:
1.You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown. (Shakespeare)
Antony here refers to Caesar’s refusal to accept the crown at the festival of Lupercal.
- The hall where Charles had confronted the High Court of Justice with the placid courage that half redeemed his fame. (Macaulay)
This historical allusion is to the trial of the English king, Charles II.
- ‘Such would, and in no long time, must be, the effect of attempting to forbid as a crime, and to suppress as an evil, the command and blessing of Providence, Increase and multiply.’ (Burke)
This Biblical allusion is to the saying in the Book of Genesis, 1. 27.
4.This is the same bog where armies whole have sunk.
It refers to the great Serbonian bog mentioned in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
- But it will pass away, burnt up in the fire of its own hot passions, and from its ashes will spring a new and younger world, full of fresh hope, with the light of morning in its eyes. (Russell)
This is a mythological allusion. Here a reference is made to the bird Phoenix which dies very old and springs up alive again from its own ashes.
- The ungainly Irishman was called to make sport for the Philistines. (Black)
Here a reference is made to Samson’s last day when he was asked by the Philistines to show his feats of strength.
- The chair she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Glowed on the marble. (T. S. Eliot)
Here an allusion is made to Cleopatra’s barge mentioned in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.
- Now we clap/Our hands, and cry “Eureka“. (Byron)
The word “Eureka’ reminds us of the exclamation of Archimedes when he was able to find a way to test the purity of gold. Hence it is a Scientific Allusion.
It is clearly understood that, in all the cases mentioned above, a word or expression used recalls to one’s mind some notable incident of the past or saying of some great book or author.
Characteristics of Allusion
The essential features, found in an allusion, are, thus, the following:
(i)An expression or word is used.
(ii) The word or expression recalls to one’s mind some event, character, or saying of the past.
An allusion, thus, consists in the use of a word or expression, which brings to one’s mind some character or incident of the past, or the saying of some author or eminent person.
Examples of Allusion with Illustrations
(i) And that one talent which is death to hide. -Milton
This is an allusion.
In an allusion, a word or expression refers to a well-known incident of the past, some legend or the writing or saying of some great man,’ or some great character.
Here the term, ‘one talent,’ refers to the Parable of Talents’, narrated by Jesus Christ to his disciples.
[‘Talent’ was a kind of Jewish coin.)
(ii) That day he overcame the Nervii. -Shakespeare
This is an allusion.
In an allusion, a word or expression refers to some past incident, character, or the writing or saying of some great man.
Here the whole expression refers to the day on which Caesar defeated the Nervii, a powerful and warlike people in Gallia Belgica, forming an important incident in his life.
(iii) But it will pass away, burnt up in the fire of its own hot passions, and from its ashes will spring a new and younger world, full of fresh hope, with the light of morning in its eyes. -Bertrand Russell.
This is an instance of the figure of speech, allusion.
The allusion consists in the use of a word or expression that serves to recall some past incident, legend, or character, or the saying or writing of some great man
Here the expression ‘burnt up … younger world’, refers to the legend of the mythical bird ‘phoenix’ which is supposed to burn itself to give birth to a new bird from its ashes.
Allusion in Literature
In fact, the Allusion, in a work of literature, is a brief reference, explicit or implicit, to a person, place, event, situation, or any literary work or passage.
- b) It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles.
-Tennyson (The allusion is to the great Greek hero, Achilles, mentioned in Homer.)
(ii) Before a senate, which still retained some show of freedom, Tacitus thundered against the oppressor of Africa.
-Macaulay (The allusion is to the condemnation of Marius Priscus by Tacitus, the great Roman historian and orator.)
(iii) This point is the great Serbonian bog, betwixt Damiata and Mount Casius old, where armies whole have sunk.
-Burke (The allusion is to a quotation from Milton’s Paradise Lost.)
(iv) Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene.
–Keats (The allusion is to the Greek legend of the fount of Hippocrene.)
(v) … till one Greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful scat.
-Milton (The reference here is to Jesus Christ.)
(vi) Queens have died young and fair Dust hath closed Helen’s eye.
–Nashe (There is an explicit allusion to Helen of Troy.)
(vii) The chair she sat in, like a burnished Glowed on the marble.
(viii) Hope deferred maketh the something sick, who said that?” (Beckett 1.38) (Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot)
Vladimir’s line is partially accurate to the Bible, however the actual proverb is “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Holy Bible, Proverbs. 13:12).
Examples of Allusion in Poetry
1.”All Overgrown by Cunning Moss” by Emily Dickinson
“All overgrown by cunning moss,
All interspersed with weed,
The little cage of “Currer Bell”
In quiet “Haworth” laid.”
In this poem, famous American poet Emily Dickinson makes an allusion to Currer Bell, which was the pen name for English author Charlotte Brontë, who is most famous for her novel Jane Eyre. Dickinson also alludes to the English village of Haworth, where Brontë died and was later buried (or “laid,” as the poem states).
- “Nothing Gold Can Stay” (1923) by Robert Frost
“Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
Here, great American poet Robert Frost makes an allusion to the Biblical Garden of Eden (“so Eden sank to grief”) to strengthen this idea that nothing—not even Paradise—can last forever.
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