5 Poem and Novel Pairings

When teaching a novel, there are a lot of different ways to incorporate other texts so your students can understand the novel and the characters’ motivations. Pairing poems with novels from the same period or with the same theme allow your students to make connections and understand the depth of the literature. Here are five poems to pair with novels your class may be reading:

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
In both Their Eyes Were Watching God and “Still I Rise,” the characters face struggles that are very similar regarding both race and gender. Both of these writers are well-known and talk about subjects they are knowledgeable about, and the students can compare the texts by seeing how these themes and subjects work in the different pieces. How do they compare in a poem or a novel? Does it matter how the story is told or is the same powerful effect still present in both?

2. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley and “Prometheus” by Lord Byron
Both the novel and the poem express similar ideas regarding the themes of death and life. Specifically, the titles of both texts include a mention of Prometheus, a god who helped man survive by bringing fire and therefore life to humankind. This could be something exciting to compare in class. Also, the fact that Shelley and Lord Byron knew each other, and Lord Byron was present when Shelley created the idea of Frankenstein is an additional fact that would be interesting to teach the class with these poems.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “To a Grey Dress” by Arthur Symons and “Faults” by Sara Teasdale
For The Great Gatsby, I have decided to pair the novel with two different poems. However, both of these poems are short. The subjects again, in each text are all related, and the poems represent a lot of Gatsby’s motivations or even seem as if they could be told from his perspective. The poems were also written around the same time, so they have the same sense about them. These poems paired with the novel will provide the students with a greater understanding of the characters and the novel itself.

4. Macbeth by William Shakespeare and “Sonnet 94: They that have the power to hurt and will do none” by William Shakespeare
I paired these two texts together, for a few reasons. One, they are written by the same writer, Shakespeare, so students can compare them to see how the writing style has changed or stayed the same. Two, both texts revolve around an obsession with power, and both show the danger of it. This could be interesting also to see if the students find any differences in how Shakespeare views this subject. Does his opinion change over time? Or can you tell that the same person writes it?

5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson
These two pieces are paired together because they both speak about the similar themes of hope and freedom. Jane Eyre is always as hopeful as she can be in horrible situations, and Dickinson’s poem revolves around the idea of hope and how it stays within you even when you do not recognize it. Freedom themes are present in the heavy bird imagery found throughout both. Jane always wishes for her freedom, wishes to be a bird, while Dickinson's poem uses bird imagery to also represent the idea of hope and freedom that “perches” within oneself. With bird imagery being repeated and always hope around the corner, the idea of hopeful freedom is a theme that resonates with the writers of both of these texts.

Above are just a few suggestions for a classroom that wants to add even more to their studies of literature. Taking time to discuss poems that are related to the works being read is beneficial for the students, as they will only learn more from the additions.