Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments”, is the most popular poem for reading or reciting at weddings in Britain, said the Guardian in 2011. The Poetry Foundation website has a list of wedding poems chosen by its editors, a list that includes poems like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways, John Donne’s The Good Morrow and Anne Bradstreet’s To My Dear and Loving Husband. My own favourites include more recent poems.
I always enjoy reading Wendy Cope and she is sparkling in her Vow, writing as a candid bride who admits she is not perfect but vows to do her very best.
Liverpool poet Roger McGough also penned a similar vow. He and his fellow Merseyside poets Adrian Henri and Brian Patten have had a piece of my heart since my schooldays when Penguin came out with a collection of their poems called The Mersey Sound. So here is A Vow by Wendy Cope followed by Vow by Roger McGough. Yes, an article separates the two Vows.
Will not wither or decay. A promise, not to obey
But to respond joyfully, to forgive and to console,
For once incomplete, we now are whole.
I vow to bear in mind that if, at times
Things seem to go from bad to worse,
They also go from bad to better.
The lost purse is handed in, the letter
Contains wonderful news. Trains run on time,
Hurricanes run out of breath, floods subside,
And toast lands jam-side up.
And with this ring, my final vow:
To recall, whatever the future may bring,
The love I feel for you now.
Wedding by Alice Oswald is another poem I like for its playfulness and chameleon imagery, which changes from one thing to another in every line of the sonnet.
By Alice Oswald
From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it’s like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it’s like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it’s like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions…
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins, it’s like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it’s like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.
The Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy is playful, too, playing with the word, “ring”, in her wedding poem, Rings.
EE Cummings, of course, is famous for his wordplay, which he does with aplomb in “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in”. I am moved by his poem, “somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond”. Both appear in books of wedding poems.
Emily Dickinson makes no reference to marriage in her wildly passionate Wild Nights – Wild Nights! But The Picador Book of Wedding Poems, nevertheless, includes the poem. It certainly captures the ardour of love.