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Allusion

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 7 months ago
Allusion
Created by Anna Liggett
 
 
 
Introduction
For the authors of the early twentieth century exploring what it was to create works in a new style, the use of allusion was a tool which lent itself perfectly to the task at hand: to look at a newly perceived relationship between the past and the future. Allusion, "indirect reference to some piece of knowledge not actually mentioned"(Allusion), opens the door to many-faceted meaning. A depth and multi-dimensionality is reached by asking the reader to make connections and interact with the text through their own lens of experience. Allusions, once the reader begins so interact with them, can act as proverbial “bread crumbs” leading towards the meaning intended by the author.
 
Uses and Motivations
In the Modernist struggle with "past", allusion provided a platform for experimentation in making "past" relevant to "present" and "future". This was famously stated by Modernist poet T.S. Eliot in his essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent."  Eliot states that "no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone.  His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists" (Eliot 72).  Allusion served Eliot as a way to combine the "tradition" in with his own work, as seen in many of Eliot's famous poems such as "The Waste Land" or "Burnt Norton."  In these works, especially "The Waste Land," Eliot's use of allusion helps him to reach a broader base for his poem to comment on and draw inspiration from. 
 
Utilizing poetry as a form of personal expression, allusion supplied poets with a way to wrestle privately with whatever issues most concerned them and communicate it creatively. Providing an audience with their conclusion and the path they took to get there was possible, engaging the reader in the journey. And as broadly effective a communication tool as it is, still it lends itself to the idea of not giving more words or information than necessary, still allows for a spare and efficient use of vocabulary. Allusion in fact often forces the writer to choose with careful thought the turns of phrase they employ.
 
Allusions can be used not only as efficient communicators, but to reflect various motivations on the part of the writers. For high modernists like T.S. Eliot, this trope involved references to "classic" literature and great operas, "raising" his art by association with their excellence, forcing his audience to be one of education and culture in order to appreciate what he had crafted. Though using references to “great” literature, the use of allusions in these poems was quite different from, say Shakespeare’s allusions venerable texts. Shakespeare used allusions that his audience, members of Elizabethan society, would have been familiar with, not needing the aid of footnotes or an extra character to offer explanation. Though Eliot did provide footnotes for “The Waste Land” to help his readers to make the connections necessary for understanding the text, even with these the common American citizen would still find it difficult to read. Here it could be said that Eliot was using allusion to gain longevity as an academically praised poet, essentially controlling who “got” his poetry. While Robert Frost on the other hand, used the completely familiar in ways which brought to light new perspectives. These new perspectives were often quite subtle, perhaps touching an entire population's consciousness, changing the way they thought about something, even without their realization. Examples of these two very different intents might be seen in the texts of “The Waste Land” and “Tuft of Flowers” respectively.
 
Modes and Functions
 Allusion also functions on a number of levels: the specific environment in which it is used --- evoking a particular image or providing symbolism --- is one, while another is to communicate large scale themes or intents. Such is the case in Ezra Pound’s “Cantos” and many of Hart Crane’s works. Frequent references to Homer’s Odyssey point to Pound’s intent that the poems of this work be seen collectively as an epic; Hart Crane alludes repeatedly to United States history and figures in his pursuit of creating “the great American poem.”  Similarly, a number of Modern writers can be seen to focus primarily on using sight, sound, or literature as the areas in which they base their works, the allusions they use reflecting this. Amongst the High Modernists, allusions primarily focused on other written works of literature, especially those deemed “classic”, while the Imagists can be found to be alluding frequently to paintings and sound.
  
The breadth of functions rendered by the trope of allusion can be seen to flow directly from the large variety of modes that can be used to make allusions. When dealing with works of literature, an author can conjure entire poems or other authors in the minds of his readers with single words. Naming characters with significant appellations, titling works using words or phrases of literary import, or utilizing terms so obscure and/or unique that the particular contexts must be known are examples of extremely concise allusions. H.D.’s (Hilda Doolittle) use of allusion illustrates this well as she makes references fit her purpose for the poem. For example, H.D. alludes to the Leda and Helen myths of Greek history in the one-word title, "Leda".  She attains both a freedom and a framework by instantly tapping into the basic set of presumptions and images already set in the audience's consciousness. Though the poem's imagery focuses on a swan, nowhere else besides the title does it mention the myth. However, by alluding to the Leda of mythology and then portraying emotions contrary to those present in the mythical tradition (i.e. joy, reciprocal sexual desire), H.D. successfully surprises the audience into reconsidering women roles.
  
More lengthy and possibly complex manifestations include direct quotations of entire phrases or lines from other works. This may include altering famous lines by re-arrangement or substitutions of words just enough to convey the desired meaning with out obscuring the origin. Also amongst the modes which depend on specific terms would be the use of symbolic imagery, references to historical incidents and descriptions or names of locations.
  
Allusions can be made through broader references also. Langston Hughes echoes the general sounds and rhythms of the blues music through which he desires to communicate a specific message/goal. Similarly, allusion can be made by discussing a particular subject in a distinctly contrasting manner. In "I, Too" Hughes alludes to the Whitman poem, "I Hear America Singing”, asserting within this framework that the descendents of slaves are just as much America as the white artisans. Allusion and symbolism can often be found side by side because of their shared economy of words. Though an author alluding to something which is a symbol for something else seems an extremely convoluted means of communicating, it can be quite effective and elegant in practice. For example, Wallace Stevens, in “Anecdote of the Jar” alludes to “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats. The ‘jar’ and its reference to the urn here can be seen to function as a symbol for either man’s handiwork or order and civilization.
 
 

 

Works cited:

 
   "Allusion." The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.
        22 Feb. 2007. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/allusion.
 
 
 
   Eliot, T.S. "Tradition and the Individual Talent" 20th Century Literary Critiism. Ed David Lodge. New York: Longman, 1972.
 

Comments (3)

Anonymous said

at 3:47 pm on Feb 28, 2007

Good start, Anna. You could ask a couple of questions that will help you develop this. For instance, how does modernist use of allusion compare to earlier periods? All poetry has used allusion to other poetry, is there something distinctive about modernist use of it. Also, Frost and Pound are pretty different. Should uses of allusion in modernist poetries be categorized in different ways? You can also develop by illustrating through short quotations of poems and discussions.

I would work a little on the prose. Your sentences occasionally stretch on for no great reason become hard to follow.

Anonymous said

at 10:59 am on Mar 14, 2007

Anna, this was put in as an edit by another student. Perhaps they didn't understand the distinction between edit and comment--(Maybe when you give your examples of the poems and the Authors you should actually take a section of the poem that illustrates this literary technique, Elliot maybe a good choice for an example, or Pound.)



Anonymous said

at 7:14 am on Apr 25, 2007

Anna, I think you could take a little more advantage of the internet technology by creating links to other pages. Your basic information looks sound and thorough to me, and your references are fine. You've got a lot of references to things that connect to modernism, so why not link to other pages, either within our wiki or on the internet at large. Maybe not everything, but a few of your more important references.

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