12 Famous Book Titles That Come From Poetry

Gabe Habash -- February 29th, 2012

Sometimes a book title is a no-brainer. Herzog. Mating. Cujo. But sometimes writers get directly inspired by other works, and that seed of a title worms its way in from a fleeting line the writer had once glanced on a page. Take, for example, John O’Hara becoming dead set on titling his masterwork Appointment in Samarra by that name because of an Arabian tale he read about in Sheepey by W. Somerset Maugham. Within that huge group of books whose titles reference other works, there are a number that borrow a line of poetry for their title. Here are some of our favorites.

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold comes from “I Knew a Woman” by Theodore Roethke

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,

When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;

Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:

The shapes a bright container can contain!

2. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh comes from The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

…I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe comes from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck comes from “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” by Robert Burns

But little Mouse, you are not alone,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go often askew,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!

5. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy comes from “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

6. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust comes from “Sonnet 30″ by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:

7. Endless Night by Agatha Christie comes from “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake

Every night and every morn,
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night,
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

8. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway comes from “Meditation XVII” by John Donne

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; 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.

9. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers comes from “The Lonely Hunter” by William Sharp

O never a green leaf whispers, where the green-gold branches swing:

O never a song I hear now, where one was wont to sing.

Here in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still,

But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.

10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou comes from “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —

I know why the caged bird sings!

11. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald comes from “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

Already with thee! tender is the night,

And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays

But here there is no light,

Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

12. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster comes from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Passage to India!

Struggles of many a captain–tales of many a sailor dead!

Over my mood, stealing and spreading they come,

Like clouds and cloudlets in the unreach’d sky.

23 thoughts on “12 Famous Book Titles That Come From Poetry

  1. Paul Hartzer

    If we’re including Shakespeare’s plays (as several posters are), there’s the couplet “By the pricking of my thumbs / Something wicked this way comes” (MacBeth IV:1), which is a twofer: Agatha Christie and Ray Bradbury

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