Inspiration to help you find some of the most beautiful wedding readings for your big dayI love how the timelessness and tradition of wedding ceremony readings can transport you to a place where you think: yes, that exactly captures how the couple feels about one and other. It’s amazing how poetry, prose, and even sometimes song lyrics can perfectly capture a couple’s story. Here’s a selection of my favourite wedding readings to give you inspiration for your 2017 wedding day…and for always.
Traditional wedding readings
You may have heard of a few of these before (maybe you were even taught them in school!) but that doesn’t stop them being any less relevant and beautiful. Here are some of the UK’s most popular wedding readings, written by some of our most famous poets, authors and playwrights:
Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
The Cloths of Heaven by W B Yeats
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
i carry your heart by e e cummings
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)
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are 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 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)
To Be One with Each Other by George Eliot
What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined together to strengthen each other in all labour, to minister to each other in all sorrow, to share with each other in all gladness, to be one with each other in the silent unspoken memories?
Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
It has made me better loving you… it has made me wiser, and easier, and – I won’t pretend to deny – brighter and nicer and even stronger. I used to want a great many things before, and to be angry that I didn’t have them. Theoretically I was satisfied, as I once told you. I flattered myself I had limited my wants. But I was subject to irritation; I used to have morbid, sterile, hateful fits of hunger, of desire. Now I really am satisfied, because I can’t think of anything better.
Modern wedding readings
From feminists to revolutionaries, the canon of modern love poetry and literature is enormous. Here are just a few of my favourite verses, including two from former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy: Rings, written for the royal wedding of William and Kate, and Valentine, a visceral take on love.
Rings by Carol Ann Duffy
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.
Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
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 promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. 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.
Love by Roy Croft
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.
I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.
I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.
I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.
I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good
And more than any fate
Could have done
To make me happy.
You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.
Perhaps that is what
Being a friend means,
Yes I’ll Marry You My Dear by Pam Ayres
Yes, I’ll marry you, my dear.
And here’s the reason why.
So I can push you out of bed
When the baby starts to cry.
And if we hear a knocking
And it’s creepy and it’s late,
I hand you the torch you see,
And you investigate.
Yes I’ll marry you, my dear,
You may not apprehend it,
But when the tumble-drier goes
It’s you that has to mend it.
You have to face the neighbour
Should our labrador attack him,
And if a drunkard fondles me
It’s you that has to whack him.
Yes, I’ll marry you,
You’re virile and you’re lean,
My house is like a pigsty
You can help to keep it clean.
That sexy little dinner
Which you served by candlelight,
As I do chipolatas,
You can cook it every night!!!
It’s you who has to work the drill
And put up curtain track,
And when I’ve got PMT it’s you who gets the flak,
I do see great advantages,
But none of them for you,
And so before you see the light,
I DO, I DO, I DO!!
Wild Awake by Hilary T Smith
People are like cities: We all have alleys and gardens and secret rooftops and places where daisies sprout between the sidewalk cracks, but most of the time all we let each other see is is a postcard glimpse of a skyline or a polished square. Love lets you find those hidden places in another person, even the ones they didn’t know were there, even the ones they wouldn’t have thought to call beautiful themselves.
Alternative wedding readings
This is cheating a bit, as ‘alternative’ could cover anything from modern, to non-rhyming poetry, to songs. I’ve tried to pick out a few that grab my attention by their unique, and at times funny, or even audacious take on love.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
‘What is REAL?’ asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When someone loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘ It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’
‘I suppose you are real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse only smiled.
‘Someone made me Real,’ he said. ‘That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.’
Red Right Ankle by The Decemberists
This is the story of your red right ankle
And how it came to meet your leg
And how the muscle bone and sinews tangled
And how the skin was softly shed
And how it whispered,
“Oh, adhere to me for we are bound by symmetry
And whatever differences our lives have been
We together make a limb”
This is the story of your red right ankle
Us Two by A.A. Milne
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.
“What’s twice eleven?” I said to Pooh.
(“Twice what?” said Pooh to Me.)
“I think it ought to be twenty-two.”
“Just what I think myself,” said Pooh.
“It wasn’t an easy sum to do,
But that’s what it is,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s what it is,” said Pooh.
“Let’s look for dragons,” I said to Pooh.
“Yes, let’s,” said Pooh to Me.
We crossed the river and found a few-
“Yes, those are dragons all right,” said Pooh.
“As soon as I saw their beaks I knew.
That’s what they are,” said Pooh, said he.
“That’s what they are,” said Pooh.
“Let’s frighten the dragons,” I said to Pooh.
“That’s right,” said Pooh to Me.
“I’m not afraid,” I said to Pooh,
And I held his paw and I shouted “Shoo!
Silly old dragons!”- and off they flew.
“I wasn’t afraid,” said Pooh, said he,
“I’m never afraid with you.”
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.
A Vow by Wendy Cope
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 favorite 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.
Until Death by Unknown
When you weary I will be your chair to rest on
When you startle in the dark I will be your moonlight
When you dream of dragons I will be the sword in your hand
When you fall and cannot rise I will be your shield from the rain
When you scream with anger I will be your echo shout
When you wait for news I will be your breath in and out
I will be with you always.
My wedding readings
I couldn’t end this blog post without mentioning the readings I used for my own wedding. I wanted three that spoke about adventure, timelessness of love and the resilience of just the two of us. I love these readings so much and would be honoured if another bride found them and wanted to use them!
Love Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda
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.
Verses from the Song of Songs
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine
My beloved speaks and says to me:
Arise my love, my fair one, and come away:
for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land
the fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in bloom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman
Listen, I will be honest with you …
I do not offer the old smooth prizes
But offer rough new prizes
These are the days that must happen to you:
You shall not heap up what is called riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand
all that you earn or achieve.
However sweet the laid up stores,
However convenient the dwelling,
you shall not remain there.
However sheltered the port,
However calm the waters,
you shall not anchor there.
However welcome the hospitality that welcomes you,
you are permitted to receive it but a little while.
Afoot and lighthearted, take to the open road
Healthy, free, the world before you
The long brown path before you,
Leading wherever you choose.
Say only to one another:
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money;
I give you myself before preaching and law:
Will you give me yourself?
Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?