11 Allusion Examples in Literature and Poetry

Looking for allusion examples in literature? Check out our guide to see examples of allusion in poetry, prose, and everyday speech.

Literary devices are frequently employed in order to improve one’s writing and make it more appealing or interesting to the reader.

Allusion is a popular literary device. What does a poetic allusion look like? And what are some literary allusion examples?

What is Allusion?

allusion poetry

An allusion occurs when an author or poet makes an indirect reference to some outside-the-text idea, figure, other text, place, or event. It could also refer to something that occurs earlier in the text, which is referred to as a “internal allusion” (as opposed to a regular, or “external,” allusion).

Because “allude” is the verb form of the noun “allusion,” you could say that a writer “alludes to” or “makes an allusion to” something. For example, it is very common for Western writers to make allusions to the Bible and Greek or Roman mythology in their works.

Allusions are subtle and indirect, implying something you should know but not explicitly telling you what it is.

The literary device is used to improve the text, usually by making it more relatable to the reader or by illustrating an example or the text’s overarching theme. Allusions are frequently used metaphorically, but they can also be ironic.

Furthermore, they are popular among poets because they can convey a lot of information in just one or a few words (assuming the reader understands the allusion!).

Allusion Examples + Analysis

Here are 11 allusion examples from poetry, literature, and everyday speech to help you understand what allusions are and how they are used. We also provide a brief analysis of each allusion example.

The two types of allusions we’ll discuss are as follows:

Allusion Examples in Poetry

Allusion Examples in Literature

Allusion Examples in Poetry

What does a poetic allusion look like? How does a poetic allusion work?

The following allusion examples are all from famous poems and should give you an idea of the various types of allusions you can make, from historical to Biblical to literary.

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, renowned American poet Emily Dickinson makes a reference to Currer Bell, the pen name of English author Charlotte Bront, best known for her novel Jane Eyre. Dickinson also mentions Haworth, England, where Bront died and was later buried (or “laid,” as the poem states).

The quotation marks indicate to the reader that these two things (the name and the location) did not come from Dickinson’s imagination. However, you’d have to be familiar with Bront herself to make the connection here.

“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.

To reinforce the idea that nothing, not even Paradise, can last forever, iconic American poet Robert Frost makes an allusion to the Biblical Garden of Eden (“so Eden sank to grief”).

Assuming you’re familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, you should be aware that the two of them were eventually expelled from Paradise due to their consumption of the forbidden fruit.

The Waste Land” (1922) by T. S. Eliot

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

T S. Eliot’s well-known poem “The Waste Land” is rife with literary allusions, many of which are obscure.

The mention of April being “the cruellest month” contrasts sharply with the opening of medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which describes April as a cheerful, lively month filled with stories, pilgrimages, and “sweet-smelling showers.” April is exceptionally cruel to Eliot because of the pain associated with the regeneration of life.

If you are unaware of this literary connection, you will miss Eliot’s almost sarcastic play on words with his antithetical view of April and spring as a whole.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee

“Are we poor, Atticus?”

Atticus nodded. “We are indeed.”

Jem’s nose wrinkled. “Are we as poor as the Cunninghams?”

 

“Not exactly. The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them hardest.”

This quotation from Harper Lee’s renowned novel To Kill a Mockingbird contains an allusion to the “crash,” that is, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which resulted in the Great Depression.

The word “crash” alone could confuse readers who are unaware of the historical event or who do not understand when and where the novel takes place (answer: 1930s America, so right smack in the middle of the Great Depression).

The Outsiders (1967) by S. E. Hinton

“Ponyboy.”

I barely heard him. I came closer and leaned over to hear what he was going to say.

“Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold … “

The pillow seemed to sink a little, and Johnny died.

S.’s line “Stay gold, Ponyboy” External and internal allusion can be found in S. E. Hinton’s classic coming-of-age story.

Ponyboy and Johnny discuss Robert Frost’s famous poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” earlier in the novel (see above). In other words, this scene contains a direct reference to a real poem from outside the novel.

When Johnny later tells Ponyboy to “stay gold” as he lies about dying, he is making an external allusion to Frost’s poem as well as an internal allusion to the boys’ previous discussion and analysis of the poem.

1Q84 (2009) by Haruki Murakami

The allusion here is not to a specific quotation, but to the title of Haruki Murakami’s 2009 bestselling novel 1Q84.

While English speakers may not immediately recognize the reference, the title of this dystopian novel is a play on George Orwell’s 1984. How? Because the letter “Q” is pronounced the same way as the number nine in Japanese, the title sounds like “1984” or “one nine eight four” in Japanese.

Murakami is well known for his allusions and references to Western pop culture, which is probably one of the reasons he has become an international sensation.

Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for your sharing. I am worried that I lack creative ideas. It is your article that makes me full of hope. Thank you. But, I have a question, can you help me?

    December 29, 2023 at 11:36 am
  2. I truly appreciate this article.Thanks Again.

    January 16, 2024 at 10:11 pm

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