Companion poems should be read as pairs, or readers should at least understand how they relate to one another. It’s also possible to encounter poems that were simply written in order to have a relationship to a famous poem, stand as an inversion, or utilize the same, well-known techniques. Readers can explore a few examples of companion poems below.
Explore Companion Poems
Companion Poem Definition
Companion poems are pieces of poetry that should be or are best when they are read together.
These poems have similar structures, subject matter, titles, and/or techniques. Sometimes, the poems span centuries, while other times, they are written by the same author and included in the same collection.
The poems in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience by William Blake are the best-known examples. Some of the pairings include:
- ‘The Divine Image’ and ‘The Human Abstract’
- ‘The Little Boy Found’ and ‘The Little Girl Found’
- ‘The Chimney-Sweeper’ and ‘The Chimney-Sweeper’
Examples of Companion Poems
Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake
Blake’s ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger’ are perhaps the best-known example of companion poems. The latter was published in Songs of Experience and the former in Songs of Innocence. The two take a somewhat similar form when speaking about opposites. Both deal with religious themes. Consider these lines from ‘The Lamb :’
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Both passages speak about creation. Specifically, Blake is considering God’s creation and the fact that God could create something as fearful as the tiger and as peaceful and calm as the lamb. (The “lamb” is also a reference to Christ.)
There is a reference to “the Lamb” later on in The Tyger’ as well. It reads:
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Blake poses a question to the reader in these lines. But, it’s one that he doesn’t expect the reader to be able to answer. He believes that the answer is “yes.” God made the lamb, and God made the tiger.
‘Infant Joy’ and ‘Infant Sorrow’
These are two more poems from Songs of Innocence and Experience that are paired. The first, ‘Infant Joy,’ is a short poem in which an infant receives its name and its mother praises and blesses it. The name “Joy” is chosen because that’s what the child feels all the time. Here are a few lines:
I have no name
I am but two days old.—
What shall I call thee?
I happy am
Joy is my name,—
Sweet joy befall thee!
The second poem, ‘Infant Sorrow,’ was published in Songs of Experience in 1794. It appeared five years after its companion piece. The poem is also short. In it, the speaker, a young child, describes their birth. The mother had a painful labor, and the child was not welcomed into the world immediately. Here are a few lines from the poem:
My mother groand! my father wept.
Into the dangerous world I leapt:
Helpless, naked, piping loud;
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
Explore more William Blake poems.
These two poems, written by John Keats and Tim Turnbull, can be read as companion poems. Keats wrote his piece in 1820, and Turnbull published his in the 21st century. The latter was written as a companion to the former. It uses a similar-sounding title and also focuses on a vessel. Here are a few lines from Keats’ original:
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
Here are a few lines from Tim Turnbull’s poem, which discusses a ceramic vessel created by the artist Grayson Perry:
Hello! What’s all this here?
A kitschy vase
some Shirley Temple manqué has knocked out
delineating tales of kids in cars
on crap estates, the Burberry clad louts
who flail their motors through the smoky night
Turnbull’s poem is a great example of how poets can, through their knowledge of poems from other eras, create effective companion pieces.
Poets throughout time have written companion poems. But, the best-known examples come from William Blake’s collections, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.
Companion poems are essential when they directly relate to one another. If a poet writes a successful poem directly inspired by another author’s work, then it’s likely the two poems will be studied together. They will likely play off on another’s style and techniques.
Some authors enjoy writing companion poems, for example, taking inspiration from a Romantic poet’s work and penning something directly related to it. But, it’s a niche category of literature, and not all poets will be compelled to engage in companion poem writing.
Related Literary Terms
- Coherence: the properties of well-organized writing. This includes grammar, sentence structure, and plot elements.
- Romanticism: a movement that originated in Europe at the end of the 18th century and emphasized aesthetic experience and imagination.
- Stanza: the unit of writing poems are composed of.
- Style: the way a writer writes. An individual writer’s style is original and unlike any other.
- Tone: how the writer feels about the text, at least, to an extent. All forms of writing, aside from the academic, have a tone of some sort.
- Watch: The Life of William Blake
- Listen: Poems of William Blake
- Listen: ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ by John Keats