What Poems Make Good Readings at Weddings?

Alison Morris -- October 9th, 2009

When Gareth and I decided to use poems for each of the readings in our wedding ceremony, we struggled, at first, to find ones we liked that were well-suited to the occasion but not overused. After I spent a lot of time collecting possible contenders from a range of sources, though, we found ourselves in the opposite position: there were now too many poems we wanted to include in some fashion. 

So, I took both the poems we used in our ceremony AND some that didn’t make the read-aloud cut, and I incorporated them all into the decorations for our reception hall. How? See the poetry sign in the terrible) photo above? In a former life it was an outdated easel-back promotional sign for (you guessed it!) a book. Take a few promo signs, add some pretty papers + poetry, and voila! Beautiful, CHEAP decorations to augment your guest book table, your gift table, the bar, the mantle over the fireplace, and so on. The bonus is that you’re providing your guests with some great reading material too.

Pasted below are the poems that made their way into our ceremony and/or onto the newly recycled signs I created. Are there other poems you think would’ve make good companions to these? Poems you think are especially well-suited to weddings? If so, please share! Poetry lovers and future brides might all make fruitful use of your suggestions.

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The Master Speed
by Robert Frost

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste,
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still —
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar. 

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Pathways
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Understand, I’ll slip quietly
away from the noisy crowd
when I see the pale
stars rising, blooming, over the oaks.

I’ll pursue solitary pathways
through the pale twilit meadows,
with only this one dream:
You come too. 

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To My Valentine
by Ogden Nash

More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That’s how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than a gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That’s how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oathes,
That’s how you’re loved by me. 

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At a Window
by Carl Sandburg

Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love. 

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The Saint’s First Wife Said
by G. E. Patterson

I woke to your face not looking at me
but at the bird that settled on your wrist,
lured by food. Its trust, for once, was rewarded.
You offered the bird everything you had.

I remember. That is how it began
with us: You held out your hand; I took it. 

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Superbly Situated
by Robert Hershon

you politely ask me not to die and i promise not to
right from the beginning—a relationship based on
good sense and thoughtfulness in little things

i would like to be loved for such simple attainments
as breathing regularly and not falling down too often
or because my eyes are brown or my father left-handed

and to be on the safe side i wouldn’t mind if somehow
i became entangled in your perception of admirable objects
so you might say to yourself: i have recently noticed

how superbly situated the empire state building is
how it looms up suddenly behind cemeteries and rivers
so far away you could touch it—therefore i love you

part of me fears that some moron is already plotting
to tear down the empire state building and replace it
with a block of staten island mother/daughter houses

just as part of me fears that if you love me for my cleanliness
i will grow filthy if you admire my elegant clothes
i’ll start wearing shirts with sailboats on them

but i have decided to become a public beach an opera house
a regularly scheduled flight—something that can’t help being
in the right place at the right time—come take your seat

we’ll raise the curtain fill the house start the engines
fly off into the sunrise, the spire of the empire state
the last sight on the horizon as the earth begins to curve 

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Coming Home
by Mary Oliver

When we’re driving, in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we’re weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place — the top
of one of the pale dunes
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea —
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything — the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness —
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me. 

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Litany
by Billy Collins

"You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine . . ."
Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the
sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine. 

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This Marriage
by Rumi

This marriage be wine with halvah, honey dissolving in milk.
This marriage be the leaves and fruit of a date tree.
This marriage be women laughing together for days on end.
This marriage, a sign for us to study.
This marriage, beauty.
This marriage, a moon in a light-blue sky.
This marriage, this silence fully mixed with spirit. 

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Begin
by Brendan Kennelly

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and the future
old friends passing through with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin. 

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from The Gift
by Hafiz of Shiraz

Even after all this time
the sun never says
to the earth,
"You owe me."

Look what happens
with a love like that –
it lights the whole sky. 

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All I Want to Say
by Linda Pastan

"A painter can say all he wants to with fruit or flowers or even clouds." -Edouard Manet

When I pass you this bowl
of Winesaps, do I want to say:
here are some rosy spheres
of love, or lust—emblems
of all the moments after Eden
when a pinch of the forbidden
was like spice on that first apple?
Or do I simply mean: I’m sorry,
I was busy today; fruit is all
there is for dessert.

And when you picked
a single bloom from the fading bush
outside our window,
were you saying that I am somehow
like a flower, or deserving of flowers?
Were you saying
anything flowery at all?
Or simply: here is the last rose
of November, please
put it in water.

As for clouds,
as for those white, voluptuous
abstractions floating overhead,
they are not camels or pillows
or even the snowy peaks
of half-imagined mountains.
They are the pure shapes
of silence, and they are
saying exactly
what I want to say. 

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From Blossoms
by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom. 

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26
by Emily Dickinson

It’s all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell. 

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Invitation to Love
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Come when the nights are bright with stars
Or when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come, O love, whene’er you may,
And you are welcome, welcome.

You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,
You are soft as the nesting dove.
Come to my heart and bring it rest
As the bird flies home to its welcome nest.

Come when my heart is full of grief
Or when my heart is merry;
Come with the falling of the leaf
Or with the redd’ning cherry.
Come when the year’s first blossom blows,
Come when the summer gleams and glows,
Come with the winter’s drifting snows,
And you are welcome, welcome. 

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Love Song
by William Carlos Williams

Sweep the house clean,
hang fresh curtains
in the windows
put on a new dress
and come with me!
The elm is scattering
its little loaves
of sweet smells
from a white sky!

Who shall hear of us
in the time to come?
Let him say there was
a burst of fragrance
from black branches. 

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by Izumi Shikibu

No different, really —
a summer firefly’s
visible burning
and this body,
transformed by love. 

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Someday Some Morning Sometime
by Woody Guthrie

Someday some morning sometime, sometime
I’d like to hold your hand in mine
Someday some morning sometime

I’d like to tell you you’re pretty and fine
Your face will smile and your eyes will shine
Someday some morning sometime

I’ll build you a house all covered in vines
I’ll bring you a nickel, I’ll bring you a dime,
Someday some morning sometime

Five six seven and eight oh nine
I’ll take you down where the birds fly by
Someday some morning sometime 

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Th
e Lanyard
by Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

10 thoughts on “What Poems Make Good Readings at Weddings?

  1. Sophia

    Wow! Amazing selection! I loved all the poems in the post and in the comments…. I look forward to exploring the rest of your blog đŸ™‚

  2. Louise

    Thank you so much! These poems are beautiful and several fit us really well, I’d almost given up! I’m so grateful you shared them, especially for those of us who are less well read in poetry.

  3. Elizabeth

    Some friends of mine used this one at their wedding, and there was hardly a dry eye: i carry your heart with me 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) i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

  4. Rick

    My wife and I closed our ceremony with this excerpt from Edmund Spenser’s “Epithalamion”: Now al is done; bring home the bride againe, Bring home the triumph of our victory, Bring home with you the glory of her gaine, With joyance bring her and with jollity. Never had man more joyfull day then this, Whom heaven would heape with blis. Make feast therefore now all this live long day; This day for ever to me holy is; Poure out the wine without restraint or stay, Poure not by cups, but by the belly full, Poure out to all that wull, And sprinkle all the postes and wals with wine, That they may sweat, and drunken be withall. Crowne ye God Bacchus with a coronall. And Hymen also crowne with wreathes of vine; And let the Graces daunce unto the rest, For they can doo it best: The whiles the maydens doe theyr carroll sing, The which the woods shal answer, and theyr eccho ring. Ring ye the bels, ye yong men of the towne, And leave your wonted labors for this day: This day is holy; doe ye write it downe, That ye for ever it remember may.

  5. Jim Voltz

    Hi Alison, Thank you for the poems. They’re beautiful. I’ve just shared them with friends and family and already I’ve been thanked for the beautiful poems a couple of times. I especially love the last poem – The Lanyard – and it’s wonderfully fitting for a wedding held at a summer camp. Please thank Gareth for us too. Sincerely, Jim

  6. suekush

    This is the poem I’m planning to read at my father’s wedding. Both he and his bride are in their 70s, and were only married once before, in their early 20s. WAITING by Raymond Carver Left off the highway and down the hill. At the bottom, hang another left. Keep bearing left. The road will make a Y. Left again. There’s a creek on the left. Keep going. Just before the road ends, there’ll be another road. Take it and no other. Otherwise, your life will be ruined forever. There’s a log house with a shake roof, on the left. It’s not that house. It’s the next house, just over a rise. The house where the trees are laden with fruit. Where phlox, forsythia, and marigold grows. It’s the house where the woman stands in the doorway wearing sun in her hair. The one who’s been waiting all this time. The woman who loves you. The one who can say, “What’s kept you?”

  7. Jessica

    There’s a wonderful old anthology edited by Michael Blumenthal called To Woo and to Wed that has a terrific selection of contemporary poems on marriage and love. From the mid-80s so not all that contemporary but well worth seeking out.

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