Readings for your Humanist Wedding

One of the perks of being a celebrant is that I get to read poems every day.

Apart from the Poet Laureate, and the odd English teacher, who else can say that?

For a couple, the main attraction of a humanist wedding is getting to talk about love in your own words, but sometimes you want to say things that express your love better than you can and that’s where poetry comes in. Poetry’s power is that it turns one person’s perceptions into words that express universal feelings, and the poems that do that best resonate with us for generations.

I’m always looking out for interesting ways to talk about love, and when I find something new, I share it with my Celebrate People colleagues and we add it to the collection that we share with our couples. Having said that, not everything that’s new to me is recent. Hafiz was a Sufi poet in 14th century Persia, and it was Libby McArthur who introduced me to this.

It happens all the time in heaven,

And some day

It will begin to happen

Again on earth –

That men and women who are married,

And men and men who are

Lovers,

And women and women

Who give each other

Light,

Often will get down on their knees

And while so tenderly

Holding their lover’s hand,

With tears in their eyes,

Will sincerely speak, saying,

“My dear,

How can I be more loving to you;

How can I be more

Kind?”

Readings come and go in popularity. “I do, I will, I have” was written by Ogden Nash almost a hundred years ago, but for some reason, it’s one of the most popular pages on my blog. Here’s another of his typically acerbic verses, which still goes down well when it’s delivered with a bit of topspin… It’s called “A Word to Husbands”

To keep your marriage brimming,

With love in the loving cup,

Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;

Whenever you’re right, shut up.

Not everyone wants to be a smart-aleck though. Delivered well, this one always reduces me to tears. It’s “I carry your heart with me” by E.E. Cummings and it dates from 1952 (which is all the more surprising when you notice that that he deliberately chose not to use any Capital Letters… I think they called it ‘avant garde’ then).

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 in 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)

It’s tough to read though, so if you like it, give yourself plenty of time to rehearse.

By the way, it’s a matter of courtesy to name the poet whose work you’re reading, if you know it. It’s the least we can do to show gratitude for their inspiration.

Talking of inspiration, where do you find it? The Poetry Foundation (where that Cummings poem comes from) is a good place to start, and there are a number of good, short anthologies out there too.

Daisy Goodwin’s anthology “Essential Poems to Fall in Love With” is a great place to start. Especially if you take it to bed with your partner and a couple of glasses of whatever you like to drink late at night. You can read about it here

Prose writers have lots to offer too. I think that Pelagia’s father’s speech from ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ is so well known now that I don’t need to quote it here, but another reading that’s becoming deservedly ever more popular is this one, by Neil Gaiman, who wrote it for the wedding of his friends Sxip and Shirley in 2017. It’s called “All I Know About Love”.

I’m not going to quote it all, but these lines struck a chord.

So this is everything I have to tell you about love and marriage: nothing,

like a book without pages or a forest without trees.
Because there are things you cannot know before you experience them.

Because no study can prepare you for the joys or the trials.

Because nobody else’s love, nobody else’s marriage, is like yours,

and it’s a road you can only learn by walking it,

a dance you cannot be taught,

a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.

I and my Celebrate People colleagues collect these gems and share them with the couples we marry. Sometimes, in their ceremonies, they share with us poems we’ve never come across, and that’s a real joy, because we can then share them with the others we’re yet to meet.

Writing your ceremony is a profoundly creative act. I hope you enjoyed these verses; if you’d like to read more, you know what to do…

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