In Defence of Allusion

Robert Pinsky

The world is allusive. The mantis alludes to a twig
To deflect the starling, the starling is a little stare
Alluded to by Shakespeare: Jacques-Pierre,

His name alluding not to spears or beers
Or shaking, though the mantis trembles a little,
Helpless refugee. Or I imagine she does,

Feeding that fantasy to my heart, an organ
Alluded to by the expression ‘courage’
Like ‘Shakespeare’ from the French, M. Jack-Peter.

They say his father was a secret Catholic,
The sort of thing that could get a person killed.
Religion is nearly always a terrible thing

And even allusion sometimes is full of harm –
Though it means play – as when the President promised
To defeat terrorism with a great crusade.

His writers doubtless didn’t mean to allude
To the Christians, including Richard Coeur de Lion
And several bishops, who made Jerusalem’s gutters

Run bloody not as an image or a figure of speech.
Lion-Heart nestled in some writer’s imagination,
Atremble, romantic, disguised. In every thing

A ghostly gesture toward some other. In Yeats’s
‘The Stare’s Nest by My Window’ the Catholic soldier
Trundled in his blood, the nestlings fed on grubs,

The heart grown brutal from feeding on fantasies.
The Crusaders must have killed some thousands of Jews
Among the thousands of Muslims. I used to know

A high school student who was brilliant at French.
The family she stayed with one summer were very kind
Although their allusions to dirty Jews or Arabs

Did bother her. What curdled her love for their language
Was how unconscious it was, like humming a tune.
‘You couldn’t wipe them out, they breed like rats.’

All of the starlings in America are descended
From ones imported because a certain man
Wanted a park with every bird mentioned by Shakespeare.

The birds are a pest, they drive out native species
In the world’s rivalrous web of exterminations
And propagating shadows, the net of being.