Allusion to the Poets

Allusion to the Poets

Allusion to the Poets

Allusion to the Poets


'Brilliant, witty, and illuminating... No other critic in our age... has dared to isolate this wonderfully ramifying, richly human subject (which requires great learning, lightly worn) and given it such intensive treatment. With this book about poets and their gratitude, Ricks has earned ours.' -Philip Horne, The Guardian Review'Subtly shows the way in which seven great poets have quoted their predeccessors in their writings, and the richness of meaning they have gained from that.' -Derwent May'Allusion to the Poets sparkles with an enjoyment that answers repeatedly to the delighted complexity and play of alert poetic imagination: for a long time to come, all good critics will be Christopher Ricks's heirs.' -Peter McDonald, Times Literary SupplementChristopher Ricks is among the best known living critics. His third collection of essays, several newly written for this book, is strongly focused on the theme of how writers - especially but not exclusively poets - make use of other writers' work: from the subtle courtesies of different kinds of allusion to the extreme discourtesy of plagiarism. Scintillating studies from one of the absolute masters of literary-critical writing.


These essays attend to allusion, as the calling into play—by poets—of the words and phrases of previous writers. Largely, of earlier poets writing in English. There is an earlier essay of mine on the philosopher J. L. Austin and his allusive wit, collected in Essays in Appreciation (1996).

The first part of the book is chronological, and considers poets Augustan, Romantic, and Victorian: Dryden and Pope, Burns, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, and Tennyson. All are seen under the aegis of the poet as heir. Allusion is one form that inheritance may take, even while inheritance takes diverse forms in different ages and for individual genius.

The second part consists of half a dozen pieces that have some relation to allusion. The one on plagiarism takes plagiarism to be allusion’s contrary (the alluder hopes that the reader will recognize something, the plagiarist that the reader will not). That on metaphor is germane to allusion, in that allusion is one form that metaphor may take (as the illuminating perception of similitude in dissimilitude, and as a relation between two things that then creates a new imaginative entity). The essay on loneliness has its bearing on allusion in that one thing allusion provides and calls upon is company (the society of dead poets being a living resource in its company). The piece on A. E. Housman considers a particular cluster in one of his poems, alluding to a prejudicial prose tradition. The case of Yvor Winters is that of a poet-critic whose poems are unremittingly allusive but whose intransigent criticism can find no place for allusion. Finally, the poetic art of David Ferry may recall to us the ways in which translation constitutes one of the highest forms that allusion can take.

The undertaking is one that aims to contribute not to the theory of allusion but to apprehending the allusive practice, principles, and tact

For which, see, for instance, William Irwin, ‘What Is an Allusion?’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59 (2001); and Carmela Perri, ‘On Alluding’, Poetics 7 (1978).

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