Recommendations for either poems or poets. Wedding poetry.
July 23, 2004 8:15 AM   Subscribe

PoetryFilter - So I'm getting married in 9 days. My bride-to-be has decided to read this poem by Pablo Neruda to me as part of the ceremony. She wants me to come up with a poem for her in response ...[more inside]

The problem is, it's been years since I read much poetry, and when I did, not much of it was love poems. My upcoming week is already packed with preparations, so I don't want to spend the whole week reading books of poetry finding something. (Obviously I also don't want to settle for something lame because I ran out of time to find anything better.)

I'm asking for recommendations for either poems or poets that might be appropriate. The poem I linked that she's reading for me is of a style which I like quite a bit, so recommendations along those lines are welcome.

Web links for any recommendations are also welcome, since I don't know how well stocked my local library's poetry section is.

posted by tdismukes to Society & Culture (47 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to answer Neruda with Neruda, you could go with Two Happy Lovers.
posted by jeffmshaw at 8:22 AM on July 23, 2004

This is not a poem, but it's a really nice thing to say about someone and I've always fancied it a good, if untraditional, wedding tribute. Mazel tov!
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 AM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Try anything by Jalaluddin Rumi. Some of his stuff is so beautiful...

I am bewildered by the magnificence of your beauty
and wish to see you with a hundred eyes.
My heart has burned with passion
and has searched forever
for this wondrous beauty
that I now behold.---
You have breathed new life into me.
I have become your sunshine and also your shadow.
posted by MsVader at 8:35 AM on July 23, 2004

You can't go wrong with a Shakespeare sonnet.
posted by cbrody at 8:35 AM on July 23, 2004

a friend of mine used tin wedding whistle as a reading in her wedding, which i thought was lovely, as it's a charming sentiment, not cloying, but it's a bit playful and, as it's written by ogden nach, not a little silly, which may not be appropriate.

i can't find my favorite cummings poem online, but it's a lovely short thing about it being so damn sweet when someone loves exactly you.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:39 AM on July 23, 2004

Here's another vote for cummings. My wife engraved "I carry your heart with me" on the inside of my wedding ring, taken from this cummings poem.

Five years later, I still get that tight-in-the-stomach feeling when I read (or ask my wife to recite) that poem. Absolutely beautiful.

posted by lewistate at 8:51 AM on July 23, 2004

Best answer: My fiancee suggests this love poem by lorna dee cervantes or this very different love poem by kenneth koch.
For my part, I'm partial to a poem entitled simply Sonnet by Bill Knott (incidentally, it's not really a sonnet). Sadly, my books are packed in boxes, and I haven't been able to find it online. I'm fairly confident I have it memorized, so here goes:


The way the world is not
astonished at you
it doesn't blink a leaf
when we step from the house
leads me to think
that beauty is natural, unremarkable
and not to be spoken of
except in the course of things
the course of singing and worksharing
the course of squeezes and neighbors
the course of you, tying back your raving hair to go out
and the course, of course, of me
astonished at you
the way the world is not.
posted by willpie at 8:55 AM on July 23, 2004 [9 favorites]

lewistate, I came here to recommend the same poem. Since you got to it first, I'll give another by the same guy:

here's to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap
and to your(in my arms flowering so new)
self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain
and here's to silent certainly mountains;and to
a disappearing poet of always,snow
and to morning;and to morning's beautiful friend
twilight(and a first dream called ocean)and
let must or if be damned with whomever's afraid
down with ought with because with every brain
which thinks it thinks,nor dares to feel(but up
with joy;and up with laughing and drunkenness)
here's to one undiscoverable guess
of whose mad skill each world of blood is made
(whose fatal songs are moving in the moon
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:06 AM on July 23, 2004

Another entry in the "answering Neruda with Neruda" vein:

Sonnet XVII

My wife and I used that poem in our wedding and it was very well received.

"so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep"

That line just kills me.
posted by fletchmuy at 9:13 AM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

take the high road, and throw some Emily Dickinson in there

or if you want to stick with old Pablo, knock yourself out with a few risqué verses -- the original version should impress everybody:

Cuerpo de mujer mía, persistiré en tu gracia.
Mi sed, mi ansia sin límite, mi camino indeciso!
Oscuros cauces donde la sed eterna sigue,
y la fatiga sigue, y el dolor infinito.

posted by matteo at 9:13 AM on July 23, 2004

She speaks always in her own voice
Even to strangers; but those other women
Exercise their borrowed, or false, voices
Even on sons and daughters.

She can walk invisibly at noon
Along the high road; but those other women
Gleam phosphorescent -- broad hips and gross fingers --
Down every lampless alley.

She is wild and innocent, pledged to love
Through all disaster; but those other women
Decry her for a witch or a common drab
And glare back when she greets them.

Here is her portrait, gazing sidelong at me,
The hair in disarray, the young eyes pleading:
"And you, love? As unlike those other men
As I those other women?" --Robert Graves

Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face.
I in my mind had waited for this long,
Seeing the false and searching for the true,
Then found you as a traveller finds a place
Of welcome suddenly amid the wrong
Valleys and rocks and twisting roads. But you,
What shall I call you? A fountain in a waste,
A well of water in a country dry,
Or anything that's honest and good, an eye
That makes the whole world bright. Your open heart,
Simple with giving, gives the primal deed,
The first good world, the blossom, the blowing seed,
The hearth, the steadfast land, the wandering sea,
Not beautiful or rare in every part,
But like yourself, as they were meant to be. --Edwin Muir

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way...

...and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness,
however fluid and however
dangerous, to take the
one hand you know
belongs to yours. ---David Whyte
posted by GaelFC at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2004 [3 favorites]

Tin Wedding Whistle is a classic.

Rumi has a lot of good ones -- Coleman Barks' translations are really good.
posted by nickmark at 9:15 AM on July 23, 2004

Oh yeah, Congratulations!
posted by fletchmuy at 9:16 AM on July 23, 2004

I meant to link this Emily Dickinson, of course
posted by matteo at 9:19 AM on July 23, 2004

Stick with another chilean: Vicente Huidobro, not as lyrical but perhaps more original than Neruda:

"Basically I love you

you are paler than an hour and the source of myth

your eyelids alone take flight

and you're more beautiful by far

Than a return trip from the Artic."

trharlan: Neruda is never syrupy, some of his translators are.
posted by signal at 9:22 AM on July 23, 2004

I went with this cummings track whilst wooing, but it's probably a little weird for a wedding.
posted by yerfatma at 9:48 AM on July 23, 2004

The cynic in me suggests this, by Larkin. I don't really recommend you use it.
posted by piskycritter at 9:53 AM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all the wonderful suggestions! Keep them coming.

willpie - I really like that poem by Bill Knotts. That's definitely a leading contender so far. The Kenneth Koch poem is really cool as well, although probably not as appropriate for the occasion.

piskycritter - I don't think so.
posted by tdismukes at 10:07 AM on July 23, 2004

fletchmuy - come over here and have your HTML privs removed with a rusty marquee tag.

But, yeah... Congrats.
posted by twine42 at 10:30 AM on July 23, 2004

I, too, was going to suggest cummings. It's perhaps a bit cliche, but you really can't go wrong with i am so glad and very. It's about as weddinglike a poem as you will ever get.

Be advised, though, that it's hard to read cummings aloud.
posted by majick at 10:32 AM on July 23, 2004

We read the Neruda Sonnet XVII in English and Spanish at our wedding as well as the cummings "I hold you in my heart". Going back to read both made me teary. They both also induced a number of teary eyes at the ceremony as well. The passion of a Neruda poem in any langauge refuses to be denied.
posted by Wolfie at 10:33 AM on July 23, 2004

One of Patti Smith's Babelogue's is strangely appropriate. This one is from Easter:
I haven't fucked much with the past, but I've fucked plenty with the future.
Over the skin of silk are scars from the splinters of stations and walls I've caressed.
A stage is like each bolt of wood, like a log of Helen, is my pleasure.
I would measure the success of a night by the way by the way by the amount of piss and seed I could exude over the columns that
nestled the P.A.
Some nights I'd surprise everybody by skipping off with a skirt of green net sewed over with flat metallic circles which dazzled and
The lights were violet and white. I had an ornamental veil, but I couldn't bear to use it.
When my hair was cropped, I craved covering, but now my hair itself is a veil, and the scalp inside is a scalp of a crazy and sleepy
Comanche lies beneath this netting of the skin.
I wake up. I am lying peacefully I am lying peacefully and my knees are open to the sun.
I desire him, and he is absolutely ready to seize me. In heart I am a Moslem; in heart I am an American;
In heart I am Moslem, in heart I'm an American artist, and I have no guilt.
I seek pleasure. I seek the nerves under your skin.
The narrow archway; the layers; the scroll of ancient lettuce.
We worship the flaw, the belly, the belly, the mole on the belly of an exquisite whore.
He spared the child and spoiled the rod. I have not sold myself to God.
Perhaps I should mention here that, at the time of our marriage, both my ex-wife and I were screwing the 18-year-old girl next door and her maid of honor was a pre-op transexual.

You didn't say whether or not this would be a church wedding.
posted by mischief at 10:35 AM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

Brain Patten: When you wake tomorrow

I will give you a poem when you wake tomorrow.

It will be a peaceful poem.

It won’t make you sad.

It won’t make you miserable.

It will simply be a poem to give you

When you wake tomorrow.

It was not written by myself alone.

I cannot lay claim to it.

I found it in your body.

In your smile I found it.

Will you recognise it?

You will find it under your pillow.

When you open the cupboard it will be there.

You will blink in astonishment,

Shout out, ‘How it trembles!

Its nakedness is startling! How fresh it tastes!’

We will have it for breakfast;

On a table lit by loving,

At a place reserved for wonder.

We will give the world a kissing open

When we wake tomorrow.

We will offer it to the sad landlord out on the balcony.

To the dreamers at the window.

To the hand waving for no particular reason
We will offer it.

An amazing and most remarkable thing,

We will offer it to the whole human race

Which walks in us

When we wake tomorrow.

or his Simple Lyric
posted by Pericles at 10:40 AM on July 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

another vote for cummings' "somewhere i have never travelled":

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, misteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

posted by Marquis at 10:46 AM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

I recommend something from John Lillison, England's greates one-armed poet:

Pointy Birds
O pointy birds, o pointy pointy,
Anoint my head, anointy-nointy.
posted by dogwelder at 10:51 AM on July 23, 2004 [3 favorites]

yerfatma - That particular cummings ditty played no small part in my own wooing. It would be an all-time favorite of mine even without the sweet associations it has acquired over the last couple years.
[on preview, Marquis posted the text of it]

tdismukes - The catch with the Bill Knott poem is that if you want a hard copy, it may be fairly tricky to find. Most of his books are out of print. The book that I have of his that has that poem in it is Poems 1963-1988 and (assuming the link works) you can buy it here (first edition here). I'm afraid I don't know the title of the book in which it first appeared. If your public library subscribes to a database called PoemFinder, you might be able to access it through their website; it can usually tell you where and when a poem has been published.
posted by willpie at 10:54 AM on July 23, 2004

Hey [wife's name], you're so fine.
You're so fine you blow my mind.
Hey [wife's name]
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:12 AM on July 23, 2004

Response by poster: willpie - If I decide to use the Bill Knott poem, I'll just go with the version that you presented. If there's a misquote, who's going to know?
posted by tdismukes at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2004

This page has some more e.e.cummings, in addition to [somewhere i have never travelled]. Another lovely Neruda poem, Every Day You Play, has one of my favorite lines, " I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry trees."

Very nice suggestions above. AskMe is the best resource. Congratulations, TD!
posted by theora55 at 11:23 AM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

twine, I know. I'm sorry. I'm clearly going to hell. I swear I'll never do it again.
posted by fletchmuy at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2004

Sonnet: Love Is Not All

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink

Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,

Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink

and rise and sink and rise and sink again.

Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath

Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;

Yet many a man is making friends with death

even as I speak, for lack of love alone.

It well may be that in a difficult hour,

pinned down by need and moaning for release

or nagged by want past resolution's power,

I might be driven to sell your love for peace,

Or trade the memory of this night for food.

It may well be. I do not think I would.

-- Edna St. Vincent Millay

posted by lilboo at 11:34 AM on July 23, 2004 [2 favorites]

We're not particularly religious, but part of the poetry we read at ours was picked and chosen from the "Song of Solomon/Song of Songs"--there are some weird parts, like "your teeth are like a flock of sheep", but there are also some really poetic and heartfelt parts like:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is cruel as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it. {Song 8:6-7 RSV}

One other thing we did, since we had a very informal wedding--20 some-odd people, barefoot, on the beach--was invite others to read something if they wanted to. (They were warned ahead of time.) It was really nice to be pleasantly surprised by some of the things people chose.
posted by LairBob at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2004


i would say it's easier to read cummings aloud than silently.

I am so glad and very. Merely my fourth will cure the laziest self of weary [and will cure] the hugest sea of shore.

So far, your nearness reaches a lucky fifth of you [and]
turns people into eachs and [turns] cowards into grow.

Our can'ts were born to happen. Our mosts have died in more. Our twentieth will open wide a wide open door.

We are so both and oneful [that] night cannot be so sky
[and] sky cannot be so sunful.
I am, through you, so "I".

you just have to pretend that the verbs he uses as nouns (and the adjectives he uses as nouns, or verbs) are what they're being used as.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:20 PM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

The cummings poem floored me the first time I read it in high school. I vote for that.
posted by weston at 12:30 PM on July 23, 2004

This is Just To Say (William Carlos Williams)
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I consider it the greatest love poem in the English language. Frank O'Hara's Having a Coke With You is a close second. But it all depends on your own conception of love and of your relationship. I hope you find good suggestions in the thread. It will be hard to follow Neruda.
posted by rafter at 12:36 PM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

We used the Apache Wedding Prayer at our wedding. Although it's written so as to be read by the officiant, I've edited it below so that you could read it to your bride.

Now we will feel no rain,
For each of us will be shelter to the other.

Now we will feel no cold,
For each of us will be warmth to the other.

Now there is no more loneliness,
For each of us will be companion to the other.

Now we are two bodies,
But there is only one life before us.

Let us go now to our dwelling place,
To enter into the days of our togetherness.

And may our days be good and long upon the earth.
posted by gokart4xmas at 1:52 PM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

The last 5 weddings I have been at have all had the Apache Wedding Prayer.

gokart gave the version for you, but this is the version that I have heard:

Now you will feel no rain,
For each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold,
For each of you will be warmth to the other.

Now there is no more loneliness,
For each of you will be companion to the other.

Now you are two bodies,
But there is one life before you.

Go now to your dwelling place,
To enter into the days of your togetherness.
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.
posted by Seth at 3:23 PM on July 23, 2004

Rumi is always good.
posted by Grod at 4:56 PM on July 23, 2004

Basil Bunting's translation of the invocation to Lucretius's De Rerum Natura or, in English, On The Nature of Things:

Darling Of Gods and Men, beneath the gliding stars
you fill rich earth and buoyant sea with your presence
for every living thing achieves its life through you,
rises and sees the sun. For you the sky is clear,
the tempests still. Deft earth scatters her gentle flowers,
the level ocean laughs, the softened heavens glow
with generous light for you. In the first days of spring
when the untrammeled allrenewing southwind blows
the birds exult in you and herald your coming.
Then the shy cattle leap and swim the brooks for love.
Everywhere, through all seas mountains and waterfalls,
love caresses all hearts and kindles all creatures
to overmastering lust and ordained renewals.
Therefore, since you alone control the sum of things
and nothing without you comes forth into the light
and nothing beautiful or glorious can be
without you, Alma Venus! Trim my poetry
with your grace; and give peace to write and read and think.
posted by y2karl at 5:12 PM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

I dont know how much wine and whisky
and beer
mostly beer
I have consumed after
splits with women-
waiting for the phone to ring
waiting for the sound of footsteps,
and the phone to ring
waiting for the sounds of footsteps,
and the phone never rings
until much later
and the footsteps never arrive
until much later
when my stomach is coming up
out of my mouth
they arrive as fresh as spring flowers:
"what the hell have you done to yourself?
it will be 3 days before you can fuck me!"

the female is durable
she lives seven and one half years longer
than the male, and she drinks very little beer
because she knows its bad for the figure.
from "Beer" by C. Bukowski
posted by scarabic at 5:21 PM on July 23, 2004

everyone here knows
my love for you is boundless
can we have some cake?
posted by th3ph17 at 5:33 PM on July 23, 2004 [4 favorites]

I'd just like to say you can very easily go wrong with a Shakespearean sonnet, since the ones actually directed toward a woman are all very insulting, and there are a bunch where he clearly lusting after another man. Of course, the "marriage of true minds" one (too lazy to look up the number) is good, I suggested that to my boyfriend's father to read at his daughter's wedding.

W.H. Auden's "Tell Me the Truth About Love" is a great poem, very entertaining and thought provoking, but probably not an answer to a poem like Neruda's.

It saddens me just looked through all my hanging files of poems I've gathered over the years, and while there are many love poems, even some positive ones, none of them really fit here. Oh well.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:26 PM on July 23, 2004 [1 favorite]

The Knott poem can also be found in hard copy here.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 10:17 PM on July 23, 2004

My favorite Neruda, though some might judge it a tad risque for a wedding service:


I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratúe.
posted by rushmc at 11:14 PM on July 23, 2004

first of all, congrats on actually wanting to share something so intimate with the one you wish to share your life...
this posting has brought much, much joy to me. being a huge cummings and neruda (and bukowski and milay and...) fan, i am heartened to find others who have shared such joy in their words. have you thought of printing a small book of love poetry in honor of your day? while mix discs are quite popular as wedding favors, why not a small book of poems to share instead?
the persian poets of rumi and hafiz ( a few of many) are dizzying and intoxicating, and still kick ass after many centuries!
posted by TomSophieIvy at 11:57 PM on July 23, 2004

In my dreams,
You’re all I sees,
boobs, butt and knees.
Be my main squeeze.
Steve Dallas
posted by Grangousier at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2004 [2 favorites]

Hope that you're still reading this thread.

There's so much great poetry out there on the subject of love that it's probably better for you to get hold of a couple of books yourself, and go through them until you find something that fits. There will be speciality love poem books in your bigger bookshops / libraries, and I'd look through these.

I've chosen three poems from a book called the honey gatherers which I thought covered the a number of possibilities.

The Passionate Sheperd to his Love is a good old fashioned love poem. It's maybe a bit long, and your serious poetry reader will say that it's more about making promises that can never be kept than it is about serious love, but it's old and people know it.

Atlas by U A Fanthorpe is a fantastic piece about ... "a kind of love called maintenance", and for me it's one of the most realistic and touching poems about long term love there is. The poems presented in a very male way, and could provide a counterpoint to a more sugary piece. It's probably very easy to misinterpret though, and the possibilty exists for offence. (I couldn't find it on the web, so have linked to a picture)

Wedding by Alice Oswald is a beautiful poem, both to read and to listen to, and it'll please a non-poetry crowd. It's my favorite out of the three, and has a kicker of a last line.

Finally, you could write your own.

Remember to pick a poem which reflects the two of you, practice reading the poem (I'd even take it to a poetry reading night or two to air it out in public), and have fun with it.

And, congratulations.
posted by seanyboy at 2:39 PM on July 24, 2004

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