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Allusion in The Chambered Nautilus

Classical Allusions: Most of Holmes’s allusions refer to the realm of Greek mythology. The sirens play an important part as the imagined cause of the nautilus’s shipwreck and subsequent death. Holmes also alludes to Triton, whose trumpet-like conch-shell horn pales in comparison to the nautilus shell as it delivers its message in the final stanza. The poem also contains a veiled allusion to the biblical Gospel of John, repurposing the metaphor of “mansions” attributed to Jesus.

Allusion Examples in The Chambered Nautilus:

The Chambered Nautilus


"Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul..."   (The Chambered Nautilus)

The final stanza represents the message of the nautilus, as recorded—perhaps imaginatively—by the speaker. Addressing “my soul,” the nautilus says, “build thee more stately mansions.” On one level, this is an extension of the shell-as-house metaphor, referring to the series of “mansions” the nautilus builds for itself. On an allusive level, this draws on the Bible, specifically John 14:2, in which Jesus says, “In my Father's house are many mansions.” At this level, the mansions are a spiritual, metaphysical construction, perhaps representing the layers of experience and development that accrue over the course of one’s life.

"Triton blew from wreathèd horn!..."   (The Chambered Nautilus)

Triton was a Greek deity, a minor sea god and a son of Poseidon. According to most descriptions, he was half-man and half-fish. In his service as an emissary for Poseidon, he used a horn fashioned out of a conch, or sea snail, shell. One of the largest sea snails, the Charonia tritonis, is named after Triton. This phrase, down to the accent on “wreathèd,” is taken from the final line of William Wordsworth’s (1770–1850) sonnet “The World Is Too Much with Us”: “Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.”

"where the siren sings,..."   (The Chambered Nautilus)

In Greek mythology, the sirens were creatures who dwelled on a cluster of rocky islands in the Mediterranean Sea. They would lure passing sailors to the shore with their beautiful singing. Sailors who heeded the call would shipwreck on the treacherous coast. In this context, Holmes alludes to the sirens in an effort to imbue the poem’s setting with mythical wonderment as well as to draw on the dangers of the sirens. At the start of the next stanza, it is clear that the nautilus has suffered shipwreck.

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