Poetic Inspiration

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?



  1. Things Fall Apart is just a great read. One of those can’t put it down because I’m too absorbed books. It is interesting to think about where some of the inspiration comes from.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Well, this poem may not be famous, but Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Lift Not the Painted Veil” inspired Somerset Maughan’s novel entitled The Painted Veil. An awesome book if ever there was one!

  3. @Cassandra: Thanks for the comment. I just posted a bit about Things Fall Apart. Good book overall, although I did have some misgivings.
    @Nancyo: I didn’t know that The Painted Veil was inspired by a Shelley poem. I’ve been meaning to read that book for a long time. When I’m back in the US this summer, that’s going to be on the top of my list of books to buy.

  4. Interesting thoughts on Chinua Achebe’s novel. Hemingway took the Title ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ from John Donne’s poem:

    “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

    Arthur Koestler evidently took the title ‘Darkness at noon’ from John Milton’s poem, Samsom Agonistes, line 80.

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