Interpreting Allusions: Dover Beach

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13601

In this lesson, you'll learn what literary allusions are and how they differ from similar poetic devices. You'll also explore an in-depth analysis of allusions in the poem "Dover Beach."


Literary Studies, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Do you know the difference between an allusion and an illusion?

optical illusion

Here's the difference:

An allusion is a reference to something:

The essay made several allusions to Shakespeare.

An illusion is a mistaken idea:

She claimed that she had no illusions about her fiancé.

To learn more about literary allusions and how to interpret them, keep reading!

Now that you know what an allusion is, it's time to learn how it works as a literary device--and how to differentiate allusions from similar literary devices.

As stated above, an allusion is a reference to something.

Allusions are found in poetry and prose writing, and are designed to bring up the ideas and themes of other well-known works of art and culture in the mind of the reader.

In her Writing Cooperative article, The Useful Allusion: 6 Reasons to Use Literary Allusions in Your Writing, Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper explains that writers use allusions because they:

  • give the reader a sense of "getting it" by understanding the reference
  • provide extra imagery or meaning
  • suggest other works to readers that the author finds valuable
  • build credibility
  • honor other important works that have been influential to the author
  • can provide an opportunity for self-promotion


While the concept of allusions may seem straightforward, students sometimes get confused between allusions and two other common literary devices: symbolism and metaphor.

Take a look at the distinctions below:

Symbolism is a representation of an idea and is dependent on the associations we have.

For instance, the "Stars and Stripes" represents America and is a symbol of pride in its country.

Allusion is an indirect or tacit reference that stimulates ideas, associations, and extra information.

For instance, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous I Have a Dream speech began "Five score years ago..." which is a direct allusion to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address which began "Four score and seven years ago..."

Metaphor directly compares two seemingly unrelated subjects, though it does not explicitly state the points of comparison.

For instance, "He roared" does not explicitly state that he was as fierce as a lion but implies it in the comparison of the noise made.

Keep these examples in mind as you listen to "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold (read by Tom O'Bedlam) from SpokenVerse:

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Click through to the Got It? section to dive in to the allusions in this poem. (See what was done there?)

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