Britain has many countries, and one of them is Poetry. We go to our national art when we seek Coleridge's "best words" for ceremony and celebration. It's no surprise that Shakespeare's majestic Sonnet 116 is the most-loved choice for weddings and civil partnerships. Those familiar yet thrilling words "Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments" are themselves our greatest poet's response to the marriage service. With a billion people expected to watch the royal wedding on Friday, it seems timely to refresh and renew the unbreakable relationship between love and poetry. Here, then, is a feast of new poems which can be uttered as vows or read as epithalamiums: poems from Scotland by its new makar, Liz Lochhead, and her sparkling compatriot, Jackie Kay; from the national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, and from the great poet of Northern Ireland, Michael Longley, alongside an authentic Gypsy wedding poem from David Morley, a hilarious squib from Carol Rumens and much more. I'm sure that many of these wonderful poems will be spoken in future years at partnerships and weddings.
Carol Ann Duffy
for both to say
I might have raised your hand to the sky
to give you the ring surrounding the moon
or looked to twin the rings of your eyes
or added a ring to the rings of a tree
by forming a handheld circle with you, thee,
or walked with you
where a ring of church-bells,
looped the fields,
or kissed a lipstick ring on your cheek,
a pressed flower,
or met with you
in the ring of an hour,
and another hour . . .
have opened your palm to the weather, turned, turned,
till your fingers were ringed in rain
or held you close,
they were playing our song,
in the ring of a slow dance
or carved our names
in the rough ring of a heart
or heard the ring of an owl's hoot
as we headed home in the dark
or the ring, first thing,
of chorussing birds
waking the house
or given the ring of a boat, rowing the lake,
or the ring of swans, monogamous, two,
or the watery rings made by the fish
as they leaped and splashed
or the ring of the sun's reflection there . . .
I might have tied
a blade of grass,
a green ring for your finger,
or told you the ring of a sonnet by heart
or brought you a lichen ring,
found on a warm wall,
or given a ring of ice in winter
or in the snow
sung with you the five gold rings of a carol
or stolen a ring of your hair
or whispered the word in your ear
that brought us here,
where nothing and no one is wrong,
and therefore I give you this ring.
A signed limited edition of "Rings" by the artist Stephen Raw is available from [email protected]
River, be their teacher,
that together they may turn
their future highs and lows
into one hopeful flow
Two opposite shores
feeding from a single source.
Mountain, be their milestone,
that hand in hand they rise above
familiarity's worn tracks
into horizons of their own
Two separate footpaths
dreaming of a common peak.
Birdsong, be their mantra,
that down the frail aisles of their days,
their twilight hearts twitter morning
and their dreams prove branch enough.
Lover's Knot for Chloe and Malcolm
From this day forwards
we'll push the boat out, let it body us,
take us to a place as much mine as yours,
past the double oxbow
where the blossoms fall, and together
we'll learn the ropes: how to pull you in,
how to let you go; let you be as you are,
and break the wave of my known world.
In a covenant of above and below,
may we be confluent with each changing tide;
our partnership both the anchor and the flow
for all the days of our lives.
Er Gwell, Er Gwaeth1 A'r fodrwy hon y'th briodaf . . .2
something about the ring in the blackbird's eye
on an April evening; the hunter's jewelled stare;
the marriage of sun and rain on dancing water;
the circle of my arms round sheets off the line;
yours bringing armfuls of wood for the fire.
â'm corff y'th anrhydeddaf . . .3
something of touch, taste, smell, the language
of hands, those chemical gifts one to the other;
grace and gesture, silence and reflection
that pair for life two swans on a river,
soundlessly sculling the stream, lover to lover.
â'm holl olud bydol y'th gynnysgaeddaf . . .4
my dowry a derelict house on a hill, five fields,
two acres of bluebells under oaks; yours, your vision.
You made sound the ruin, dreamed space and light,
a room of oak and glass, let in the sky, the hills,
and all of Ceredigion, Cariad5, in a glance.
1 For Better, For Worse
2 With this ring I thee wed
3 With this body I thee worship
4 With all my worldly goods I thee endow
I cannot promise never to be angry;
I cannot promise always to be kind.
You know what you are taking on, my darling –
It's only at the start that love is blind.
And yet I'm still the one you want to be with
And you're the one for me – of that I'm sure.
You are my closest friend, my favourite person,
The lover and the home I've waited for.
I cannot promise that I will deserve you
From this day on. I hope to pass that test.
I love you and I want to make you happy.
I promise I will do my very best.
your body where love takes place
your mouth where my life takes shape
your breath which makes my space
you as you are, for good
you with open arms, to have
you to have
and to hold but not to hold
you for farther for closer
for sooner for later
death tries to get us
and we laugh and we stall
and we tell it to call us some other
fine day because we are busy today
taking our tea with buttered
From the Song Dynasty
The tale survives of two men
Who fell in love "at first sight";
Who shared everything
In unbounded intimacy
Including the pillow
And the red embroidered coverlet
Which had been in the family
Whether they had bad days,
Or inappropriate dreams
We do not know –
No doubt such burrs
Were worked away by time
Polishing its story;
How they found each other
And lived together all their lives,
And died on the same day,
And were buried by the grieving town
On Mount Luofo's peak
With their pillow and red coverlet;
And a pine tree grew
Out of the grave
Like the character for longevity
And true love.
Such is the legend.
I like to think of them,
Pan Zhang and Wang Zhangxian,
In the crowd of well-wishers
Waiting in the April sunshine,
Yes, under white cherry trees
In full bloom, for us
Here and now, on this day
Early in the century,
In our very best suits and ties,
With our new rings
Growing warm on our fingers
Like keepsakes of light
Saved from the stars.
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.
Let's love, listen, take time
when time is all we have.
Let's be unafraid to be kind,
learn to disregard the bad
if the good outweighs it daily.
Let's make a gift of silence,
the day's hushing into dark,
and when we hold each other
let's always be astonished
we are where we want to be.
Let's hope to age together,
but if we can't, let's promise now
to remember how we shone
when we were at our best,
when we were most ourselves.
The Vows Moment Wobbles the Sonnet
I've walked the valley path in sticky rain
to see the person I met in a caff by luck
lost to the world out on a cloddy track
full of ache, done-for-almost, in foul pain –
Enough, I love you.
So I claim the right to touch, –
Here we are
on the old bridge across the river, your letter
said Meet me, it seemed unlikely. You came.
I wanted this to be a convivial sonnet, lost it.
No loss, though, of the light dance of us?
I came prepared with a scenario, you see.
News to me, me and my palpitations, dear.
Will you join me in a new song's modal drift?
I called you dear and you let it pass, it hurts.
I'll jump about a bit and hum, okay with you?
You hum, I'll mode, you jump, I'll amble, yes.
So, are we pledged? Pledged, trothed, vowed?
You haven't heard my dear nor called me it.
I won't name it, no, but tease your shy drift.
Trembling, you mean, to give you yes, yes.
You'll be my sonnet lover loosely interpreted?
I vow to dance your lines all over the house.
For new times' sake let's make a start on this.
On the road then? I give you my hand, dear.
I give you mine, rhymes with, rhymes how? Ah ha.
The Sailor's Vow
The life I spent so lavishly
Before we met
Seems one long night, in memory,
Of sea-fever and sea-fret –
Which led me here, to you, to this:
Our haven below decks.
You anchor me, I you, with a kiss
(Though the coast is strewn with wrecks).
A Lang Promise
Whether the weather be dreich or fair, my luve,
if guid times greet us, or we hae tae face the wurst,
ahint and afore whit will happen tae us:
blind in the present, eyes open to the furore,
unkempt or sharply dressed, suddenly puir or poorly,
peelie-wally or in fine feckle, beld or frosty,
calm as a ghoul or in a feery-farry,
in dork December or in springy Spring weather,
doon by the Barrows; on the banks o' the Champs d'Elysees,
at mid-nicht, first licht, whether the mune
be roond or crescent, and ye be o' soond mind
or absent, I'll tak your trusty haund
and lead you over the haw – hame, ma darlin.
I'll carry ma lantern and daur defend ye agin ony enemy;
and whilst there is breath in me, I'll blaw it intae ye.
Fir ye are ma true luve, the bonnie face I see afore me;
nichts I fall intae slumber, it's ye I see swimmingly –
all yer guidness and blytheness, yer passion.
You'll be mine, noo, an' till the end o' time,
ma bonnie lassie, I'll tak the full guid o' ye'
and gie it back, and gie it back tae ye:
a furst kiss, a lang promise: time's gowden ring.
Ghazal: I Thee Wed
Bride: Though the Barbary lion is extinct
and beside it love is a feeble thing,
I thee wed.
Groom: Though the cry violet has cried its last
and the first flush of youth has had its fling,
I thee wed.
Bride: Though the skylark neither soars nor sings
of a joy whose race is just beginning,
I thee wed.
Groom: Though the baobab's shade has grown so thin
and the elephant thirsts, remembering,
I thee wed.
Both: In the name of beast, flower and bird,
tree of life and song of love, with this ring,
I thee wed.
Vow: The Simplest, Hardest and the Truest Thing
One: We live in love, so finally are come today
(beyond the gladrags and the sweet bouquet
beyond cake or ring or all this fuss)
to this, the simplest and the truest thing for us.
Other: If you can say, my love – and hand on heart –
I will love you until death do us part –
One: – Hand on heart,
I will love you till death do us part.
Other: Then look me in my eyes – and now!
and here! – this kiss we kiss shall be our vow.
For a Wedding
Let wild birds call the banns
merlins from the hillside
sanderlings from the waves
whimbrels with seven notes
nightingales from the wood
from the treetops rooks
from your own back garden
blue tit, robin, wren.
'I give you this bouquet
of saxifrage sneezewort
spurge ragged robin
'For your buttonhole I
have braided loosestrife
and self-heal and eyebright
and speedwell and speedwell.'
I vow to honour the commitment made this day
Which, unlike the flowers and the cake,
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.
Marriage Vows of a Rom to a Gadji
To all of you at this pliashka, we are one
Until the shadows steal our horses home.
To thee, romni, lightest lace across thy kocsh,
For the treasures of lon and gold marò.
Break the bold marò, Borì – salve it
In the blood and salt upon thy knee.
Share this salt, this bread, this blood.
Let us leap low over the candles' glow.
Mi dèhiba, I feed thee and thou will feed me
Even as our hearts slow, our tresses sewn with suy.
Our unlike hands will untangle. We shall
Gather up kookoochìn for your balà.
Sorì simensar sì mèn, we cry as one.
All who are with us are ourselves.
Rom: Romani man; Gadji: Non-Roma woman; pliashka: Romani ceremony preceding the 'abiav' or wedding (see below); romni: wife; kocsh: knee; lon: salt (n); marò: bread; Borì: bride; mi dèhiba: my beloved; suy: grey; kookoochìn: snowdrops; balà: hair; Sorì simensar sì mèn: We are all one; all who are with us are ourselves.
Romani vows: At the pliashka the symbol of celebration is a bottle wrapped in a coloured silk handkerchief, brought to the ceremony by the man's father. Gold coins on a necklace are looped on the bottle. The future groom's father takes the necklace of coins and puts it around the future bride's neck. In the subsequent Roma marriage rite, the bride and groom might each take a piece of bread and place a drop of their blood on the bread. They then exchange and eat each other's bread. Sometimes a small amount of salt and bread is placed on the knees of the bride. The groom takes some of the bread, puts salt on it, and eats it. The bride does the same. The recent depictions of 'Gypsy weddings' on television are a travesty of what happens at these occasions.
I make this vow today. I stand here now
Returning you what you gave me to give.
Myself complete. Myself complete in you.
My life I give, that you gave me to give.
A Lychee for A.E.
Before the ring, before the web
of beautiful promises,
Love, I give you this:
Stripped to the flesh,
dark rind discarded
like an abbot's robe,
the sleek globe glows
like a paper lantern
in a summer garden.
Clustered on branches
of maturing evergreens
girdled in their groves
that grow fecund,
as colonies of bees sip
at their flowers' glands.
Bred for pleasure and
the appetites of an emperor:
Satiated, shut your hand
on my shrunken, bruised
-black, heart of stone.
Michael Symmons Roberts
The Vows – A Coda
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.
To be said by senior couples renewing their vows
1. (He and She, together)
Partner, partner, on the wall,
Nailed there so you'd never fall,
Hope you like this shade of blue
I've lightly painted over you.
2. (He and He, together)
Randy, dandy, twist and shout –
B-and-Bs once threw us out.
Now we're poor old Zimmer-geezers,
Folk think we're twin-brothers. Jesus!
When I'm toothless, bald and grumpy,
Dump me gently as you dump me.
Dumping you would be invidious:
You're already old and hideous.
That word on your lips
is a kiss;
is a promise already made.
We made it.
Love did not turn from hurt
or hard work.
When lights failed, it did not switch off.
When love had no road,
we willingly built it.
We shouldered its stones
and its dirt. So thank god
there are days like this when it's easy.
When we open our mouths
and the words flood in.
Put the word of your hand
We have learnt to hold to each other
when nothing was given by right;
how love will insist
with its ache; with its first painful
tug on the guts;
its snake in the nest of the ribs;
the bomb in the chest;
in the Y of the thighs; the red, red
red sun of it, rising.
How love must, at all costs,
be answered. We have answered
and so have a million before us
and each of their names is a vow.
So now I can tell you, quite simply
you are the house I will live in:
there is no good reason
to move. Good earth,
you are home, stone, sun,
all my countries. Vital to me
as the light. You are it
and I am asking.
Love opens a door
then slams it. It does.
It loses its touch and its looks.
But love needs its fury.
We have fought
and when times make it necessary,
we will again. When night draws in,
we won't forget
how once the streets ran wet with light
and love. Like blood. They will again.
But for now,
we make our promises gently.
This extraordinary day we have made.
the birds in their ordinary heaven.
Tonight the sky will blaze
with stars. Today, my love,
rooms bloom with flowers.
The sky is ours.
From The Guardian