Unusual wedding poetry and readings: beautiful, moving and unique verses for your big day

Posted by
Anna Brech

True love comes in many different guises, from the cynical to the intimate and the romantic to the revolutionary. And just because you're in love, it doesn't mean you have to resort to cloying sentimentality to express how you feel (unless you want to, of course).

Wedding readings are a case in point. The internet has more love poems that you could shake a diamante-clad veil at, but choosing something that speaks to you is a tough proposition. Unless you're happy to settle for a well-worn classic that's recited time and again, you'll be searching for an extract or verse that's original and perhaps a little offbeat. It also needs to strikes the balance of being affectionate and moving without setting your teeth on edge.

Then there's the issue of realism. Some couples prefer to opt for wording that reflects true love - with all its residue difficulties and challenges - rather than revert to an abstract lexicon of hearts, harps and flowers. Others like to add a little humour into the mix, to counteract the solemnity of the occasion. And let's not forget you also want to keep it fairly short. There's no greater downer on a wedding than hearing a reader drone on forever.

So in honour of real, honest and flawed true love, we've rounded up our 10 favourite unusual wedding readings to suit all kinds of different relationships and tastes. Whether you're after something funny, eccentric, touching or authentic - come take a look at our selection - with not a sniff of a Clinton card sentiment in sight...

Close close all night

By Elizabeth Bishop

This simple and intimate poem seems to capture the nature of love without over-glorifying it in any way. Elizabeth Bishop was an American short story writer and one-time Poet Laureate known for her carefully crafted observations and affection for the small things of the world. A dedicated feminist, she wrote this poem while living with her female lover, the architect Lota de Macedo Soares, in Brazil.

Close close all night

the lovers keep.

They turn together

in their sleep,

close as two papers

in a book

that read each other

in the dark.

Each knows all

the other knows

learnt by heart

from head to toes.

The Life That I Have

By Leo Marks

Love and death are both opposites and two sides of the same coin, with one extreme making the other more profound. English cryptographer Leo Marks wrote these beautiful verses in Christmas 1943, just after the death of his girlfriend, Ruth, in a plane crash in Canada. Because it was so obscure, the poem was later used to encrypt messages between Allied spies in France, including Violette Szabo, the heroic British agent who was later captured and killed by the Nazis.

The life that I have

Is all that I have

And the life that I have

Is yours.

The love that I have

Of the life that I have

Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have

A rest I shall have

Yet death will be but a pause.

For the peace of my years

In the long green grass

Will be yours and yours and yours.

From First Poems

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Sometimes, the best things in life come short, sweet and simple - as with this lovely little offering from Rainer Maria Rilke. Of Austrian-Bohemian origin, Rilke was famed for his rich, lyrical style and is considered one of the greatest poets of the German language. He recognised the need for solitude in love, and this poem reflects the way in which independence and romance make perfect bedfellows.

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.

From Captain Corelli's Mandolin

By Louis de Bernières

It would take a stern heart indeed not to be moved by Louis de Bernières' incredibly perceptive description of true love, as laid out in his best-selling novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin. He uses imagery that conjures up the strong, solid and non-starry foundation of a sponsored_longform while neatly sidestepping any of the usual clichés about budding flowers and blossoming trees.

Love is a temporary madness,

it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.

And when it subsides you have to make a decision.

You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together

that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.

Because this is what love is.

Love is not breathlessness,

it is not excitement,

it is not the promulgation of eternal passion.

That is just being "in love" which any fool can do.

Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away,

and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground,

and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches,

they find that they are one tree and not two.

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Us Two

By A.A. Milne

From Margery Williams to Rudyard Kipling, there are plenty of children's authors out there whose frill-free prose makes for a perfect wedding reading. A.A. Milne, with his eye for lovable, enduring relationships between Pooh, Piglet and Christopher Robin, is one of the best. This reading would especially suit a wedding where children are closely involved in the proceedings. It's a cut down version of A.A. Milne's original verse, seen in full here.

Wherever I am, there's always Pooh,

There's always Pooh and Me.

Whatever I do, he wants to do,

"Where are you going today?" says Pooh:

"Well, that's very odd 'cos I was too.

Let's go together," says Pooh, says he.

"Let's go together," says Pooh.

So wherever I am, there's always Pooh,

There's always Pooh and Me.

"What would I do?" I said to Pooh,

"If it wasn't for you," and Pooh said: "True,

It isn't much fun for One, but Two,

Can stick together, says Pooh, says he. "That's how it is," says Pooh.

The Vows – A Coda

By Michael Symmons Roberts

Award-winning Preston-born poet Michael Symmons Roberts manages to combine both the poetic and rebellious nature of romance in this killer of a wedding poem. His descriptions - "gaze at the pining moon" and "glass-gems from the sand" - are dulcet without being cloying and he strikes a fine balance between this and bringing the more atavistic, chaotic side of passion (think disturbing each other's peace and naked scents) to the fore.

We pledge to wake each morning face-to-face,

to shun the orders of the busy sun,

we promise to disturb each other's peace.

And we will, yes, gaze at the pining moon,

will pick out brine-blown glass-gems from the sand,

will read our future scratched onto a stone.

We're naked, till we wear each other's scent

and recognize it quicker than our own.

You start and finish me, you're my extent.

I speak these words to many and for one.

Bridled Vows

By Ian Duhig

Why not take the concept of love off its pedestal and simply vow to do your best? At first glance, Ian Duhig's marriage ditty is not the most romantic of poems - but it could also be argued that the lack of bells, whistles and sickly sweet sentiments makes it the very definition of true love. This vow is fully grounded in reality; it recognises that two people might snap and be impatient with each other - that they might not even make the distance. But in acknowledging all these pitfalls and barriers along the way, it rounds off with the missive: "I think it's worth a shot". A brave, unsentimental and grounded option.

I will be faithful to you, I do vow

but not until the seas have all run dry

etcetera: although I mean it now,

I'm not a prophet and I will not lie.

To be your perfect wife, I could not swear;

I'll love, yes; honour (maybe); won't obey,

but will co-operate if you will care

as much as you are seeming to today.

I'll do my best to be your better half,

but I don't have the patience of a saint;

not with you, at you I may sometimes laugh,

and snap too, though I'll try to learn restraint.

We might work out: no blame if we do not.

With all my heart, I think it's worth a shot.

The Apache Wedding Prayer

OK, so before we get too far into a discussion of this particular passage, let's just clarify that it doesn't have any official link to the the traditions of the Apache or any other Native American group. In fact, it first appeared in the the 1947 Western novel Blood Brother by Elliott Arnold, and found fame in the film version of the book, 1950's Broken Arrow. Though some contend it is a barbarisation of an official wedding vow - "commerce disguised as tradition", according to one critic - its simple, non-denominational summary of a lifetime bond between two people has seen it become a popular option for wedding ceremonies in the States.

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.

Let me put it this way

By Simon Armitage

If you want to banish any hint of cheesiness from your ceremony, this option from British poet Simon Armitage could well do the job. He uses the lightest of touches to explore the bond between loved ones, with a heavy dose of absurd humour along the way. And what is love without laughs, after all? A great one if you want to slightly negate the solemnity of a religious or civil ceremony.

Let me put it this way:

if you came to lay

your sleeping head

against my arm or sleeve,

and if my arm went dead,

or if I had to take my leave

at midnight, I should rather

cleave it from the joint or seam

than make a scene

or bring you round.


how does that sound?

Love Sonnet 17

By Pablo Neruda

There's something wonderfully mysterious and uplifting about this erotically charged offering from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The man that Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez once hailed "the greatest poet of the 20th century in any language" brings love to life in all its brooding, sensual and despairing facets in this lyrical and meandering ode. It was written for Matilde Urrutia, Pablo's third wife and really gives a taste of love as an elusive concept that is always felt and experienced but never truly captured as a tangible thing.

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,

or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms

but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;

thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,

risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,

so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Photos: Rex Features, Words: Anna Brech


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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