Allusion, not illusion, is the use of something outside of the context of the poem. It is often used to bring in another layer to the poem. In the “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, the narrator asks whether something is “to be” a reference to Hamlet’s soliloquy, but since he’s such a sad imitation of a man, he can’t even get the beginning of the soliloquy right.
In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo. (Another allusion.)
In this poem the allusion is to Nelson Mandela’s wife who herself was a political activist though a controversial one. It seems that most allusion is used for political protest or social critique, but if used effectively, it always helps the poem to have more power… as long as you know what it’s referring to.
“The Lady of Shalott”, a poem about a mythical woman who lives in a river seems to be referring to the Arthurian Lady of the Lake, and some people, convinced of this fact, point to several parts of the poem to justify that that is who she is. (Camelot and Lancelot do appear in the poem.) But others are dubious about that as it seems that she is simply the ghost of a woman who drown in the river near the Shalott island. I think that the allusions imply that she could have been transformed into this mythical figure through her tragedy. That’s the nice thing about this particular poem is that both it and its allusions can be read in many different ways (I’ll post that poem tomorrow – it’s a good one!)
I thought that this was a good example of how allusions are usually used. And it too is a really beautiful poem. Notice how the wife’s name is not capitalized, but the husband’s is – interesting! Even with freedom fighters there is a disparity.
by Lucille Clifton
a dark wind is blowing
the townships into town.
They have burned your house
but your house has been on fire
a hundred years.
they have locked your husband in a cage
and it has made him free.
Mandela. Mandala. Mandala
is the universe. the universe
is burning. a dark wind is blowing
the homelands into home.