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Poetry in Weddings: Let me Count the Ways
Written by: Joy Cagil
Since most weddings are romantic and poetic, poetry has been attending them for more than two millenniums. Epithalamiums, first wedding poems of the western world, were sung by Greek and Roman poets outside the happy couple's room. During the fourteenth century the poems became more sophisticated and this change eventually led to the writing of wedding poetry by well-known poets like Donne, Jonson, Herrick, and Edmund Spenser.
Spenser wrote his famous "Epithalamion" to his young bride Elizabeth Boyle for his own wedding ceremony. "Epithalamion" starts with:
"YE learned sisters which haue oftentimes
beene to me ayding, others to adorne:"
430 lines later the poem ends with:
"Ye would not stay your dew time to expect,
But promist both to recompens,
Be vnto her a goodly ornament,
The Irish, also, blessed a marriage with ale and this blessing.
"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
May God be with you and bless you;
May you see your children's children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near.
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Spanish Jews wrote some notable poems on matrimonial themes, and in Italy, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Jews and Christians offered to the couple wedding poems--sacred, romantic, or in riddles--commemorating the occasion. These poems--some one hundred lines long--were often commissioned by the rich to the famous poets of the day to be luxuriously illustrated and handwritten in calligraphy on parchment. The wedding riddles were given to the guests several days before the wedding to give people time to solve the riddles.
In old China, most of the wedding rituals were performed with a lot of writing exchange between the two families. Also, quoting from the I Ching during the marriage ceremony was customary.
" When two people are at one
in their inmost hearts,
they shatter even the strength of iron or bronze.
And when two people understand each other
in their inmost hearts,
their words are sweet and strong,
like the fragrance of orchids."
In India, wedding poems are not only written by the couple to each other but also by the people surrounding the couple who bless them and tell them the importance of marriage in their own words. As part of the entertainment, old wedding poems are also sung the couple's friends and family to the accompaniment of sitars and other Indian musical instruments.
In most Christian weddings, this piece from the Bible from the Corinthians 13:4-8, which can be considered a prose-poem, is read.
"Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."
In Catholic weddings, sometimes people read their poetic thoughts or sign a wedding scrapbook adding their lines of poetry.
In view of the history of wedding poetry, if wooing, pleasing, and luring your partner to eat out of your hand is your aim, why not compose a poem for your wedding day? After all, a poem is communication in its most attractive finery and it shows that you are paying special attention to that special person; therefore, the most meaningful wedding gift you can give to your partner can be a poem of your own creation with your individual tone of intimacy.