Our favourite part of a ceremony or speech are the poems (well... can we have a lot of favourite parts? 'Cause we do). Especially for secular weddings, poems complement the ceremony along with your vows to make the day uniquely yours. Which poems you choose, who reads them, that happy, happy glassy-eyed look shared between you.
A poetry professor I (Megan, social media coordinator, hello!) had in my first semester at university gave a lecture once on the poems he is always asked to read at friends' weddings (because he is, of course, an incredible lecturer and doctor of literature and poetry). He said that heaps of his friends had asked him to read two poems which seem like love poems but are actually quite... off. The sentiment may be there, but the words which articulate it are a little offensive, or the sentiment in fact is not as innocent as it seems.
So, the poems you choose are important—and you should know them through and through. Know what every word choice means, what each line break represents: because they all have an impact on the suitability and romance of the poem you're choosing to proclaim your love.
We'll get to those three poems that you should avoid, but let's begin with the D&C team's favourites!
Photos from Junebug Weddings!
Having a Coke With You by Frank O'Hara
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s
in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together
the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that
used to wow me"
This is a beautiful poem that O'Hara wrote for his lover. This is only one excerpt, of course, but I recommend you read the rest. It can be a bit of a challenge to recite for someone not used to reading poetry, but ah, it is worth the effort. (A note for readers: this poem is introduced by it's title, Having a Coke With You, and then immediately the first stanza, "is even more fun than..." to create a full sentence.)
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) by E. E. Cummings
"i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)"
You've probably heard this one before (again, an excerpt) and again, this is very challenging to read aloud! But oh, how sweet it is! We love it for how lyrical it sounds when read aloud.
Lullaby by W. H. Auden
"Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful."
This poem is a little on the grimmer side, but is perfect for the plainly realistic couple: life is hard, love is hard, and your marriage won't be without bumps. But that doesn't matter—because you love each other despite and during those inevitabilities. How sweet!
How about those two poorly suited poems that my professor warned all us young poets about? Well—when you google "love poems", it seems they are both liable to pop up in the first ten results, which would explain how people keep choosing them!
Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
"For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea."
This poem is romantic, because the speaker obviously loves young Annabel Lee—but then she dies, and he... ahem... keeps loving her. So. Maybe avoid death in your love poems unless it's a "not even in death shall we be parted" type sentiment.
Wish For a Young Wife by Theodore Roethke
"My lizard, my lively writher,
May your limbs never wither,
May the eyes in your face
Survive the green ice
Of envy’s mean gaze;
May you live out your life
Without hate, without grief,
And your hair ever blaze,
In the sun, in the sun,
When I am undone,
When I am no one."
This is the whole poem. Why is this a bad poem for weddings? The first line. Try to avoid calling your wife anything close to a lizard. And "lively writher"? Yuck. We hope that's enough said. Also, arguably, he is saying, I hope you can stand your envy—as in, she will always be the envious one: of other's beauty, of his relationships, so much so that he fears the "green ice" will rot out her eyeballs.
To Dorothy by Marvin Bell
"You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
and a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
of a windy night, it brushes the wall
and sweeps away the day till we sleep.
A child said it, and it seemed true:
“Things that are lost are all equal.”
But it isn’t true. If I lost you,
the air wouldn’t move, nor the tree grow.
Someone would pull the weed, my flower.
The quiet wouldn’t be yours. If I lost you,
I’d have to ask the grass to let me sleep."
This, similarly, begins by proclaiming your lover's inexact, uncertain beauty. Ultimately the sentiment is a sweet one, but perhaps, think twice before reading the lines "you are not beautiful exactly" out to your bride in front of everyone you love.
What are your favourite love poems? We'd love to hear! Let us know in the comments below.
For more inspiration & ideas, check out our previous blog posts on the subject!