Having recently finished Things Fall Apart, I got to thinking about other famous novels which have been inspired wholly or in part by famous poems. While I’m certainly not a poetry connoisseur, I do enjoy reading the occasional poem and find it especially fascinating to read (or reread) a poem in the context of a novel it inspired. Links to the full poems are included. Enjoy!
“Annabel Lee“ by Edgar Allen Poe (Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov)
Nabokov, in his endless wordplay, seamlessly weaves snippets of Poe’s poem into Humbert Humbert’s narration. Annabel was the name of Humbert’s first love, the young girl that haunted his mind until he met Lolita decades later. The themes of the poem – tragic love, death, jealousy – mirror those of Lolita.
“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came“ by Robert Browning (The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King)
King’s inspiration for his seven-book, 3000+ page epic were Clint Eastwood westerns and this poem by Robert Browning. While King obviously fills in quite a bit, the poem and the books follow Roland in his quest for the ever-elusive Dark Tower.
“The Second Coming“ by W. B. Yeats (Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe)
The first stanza of The Second Coming describes a world coming apart at the seams. Blood is shed, anarchy reigns, and innocence is destroyed. In Achebe’s novel, Okonkwo sees his world of tribal tradition and stability ripped apart from within (his own tendencies towards rigidity and violence) and from without (the arrival ‘modernity’ in the guise of white missionaries). Things Fall Apart is a particularly apt, perhaps even understated, title.
“Norwegian Wood“ by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami)
Yes, it’s a pop song, but technically and artistically, Norwegian Wood qualifies as poetry. In the song, a haunted narrator looks back on the girl who slipped through his fingers. Murakami’s novel is beautifully structured around the same motif.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are countless titles that could be attributed to Shakespeare alone (think A Brave New World from The Tempest or The Sound and the Fury from Macbeth). Any other favorite books that were inspired by a particular piece of poetry?