Looking for readings for your wedding from major authors? Here is a list of excerpts and poems, all beautiful works of literature that you can choose from for your ceremony.
We personally still haven’t decided which readings we’ll use for our ceremony, but I think they should be matched to your personalities and values as a couple. For instance, if you aren’t religious, it probably doesn’t make sense to choose a very religious reading for your wedding.
I hope the passages below will help you in your decision-making process! Many are sourced from books I own or from poetryfoundation.org. You may also be interested in my list of Summer Solstice wedding readings.
Whatever you do, remember to choose readings that work best and speak most strongly to YOU, and not choose readings because you’re trying to please others in the crowd. Happy reading! 🙂
#1 One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
BY PABLO NERUDA
TRANSLATED BY MARK EISNER
From The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.
#2 To My Dear and Loving Husband
BY ANNE BRADSTREET
From The Complete Works of Anne Bradstreet
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persevere,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
#3 Love Song
BY MARY CAROLYN DAVIES
From No Bliss Like This: Five Centuries of Love Poems by Women (Chatto & Windus, 2006)
There is a strong wall about me to protect me:
It is built of the words you have said to me.
There are swords about me to keep me safe:
They are the kisses of your lips.
Before me goes a shield to guard me from harm:
It is the shadow of your arms between me and danger.
All the wishes of my mind know your name,
And the white desires of my heart
They are acquainted with you.
The cry of my body for completeness,
That is a cry to you.
My blood beats out your name to me,
Your name, your name.
#4 Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds
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.
BY CAROLYN WELLS
From She Wields a Pen: American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Two shall be born the whole world wide apart,
And speak in different tongues, and pay their debts
In different kinds of coin; and give no heed
Each to the other’s being. And know not
That each might suit the other to a T,
If they were but correctly introduced.
And these, unconsciously, shall bend their steps,
Escaping Spaniards and defying war,
Unerringly toward the same trysting-place,
Albeit they know it not. Until at last
They enter the same door, and suddenly
They meet. And ere they’ve seen each other’s face
They fall into each other’s arms, upon
The Broadway cable car – and this is Fate!
#6 Cave Dwellers
BY A. POULIN JR.
From Selected Poems (BOA Editions Ltd., 2001)
I’ve carved a cave in the mountainside.
I’ve drilled for water, stocked provisions
to last a lifetime. The walls are smooth.
We can live here, love, safe from elements.
We’ll invent another love that can’t destroy.
We’ll make exquisite reproductions of our
selves, immortal on these walls.
And when this sea that can’t support us is burned clean,
when the first new creatures crawl from it,
gasping for water, air, more wondrous and more
wild than earth’s first couple, they shall see
there were two before them: you and me.
#7 Song for the Last Act
BY LOUISE BOGAN
From The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968
Now that I have your face by heart, I look
Less at its features than its darkening frame
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd’s crook.
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.
Now that I have your face by heart, I look.
Now that I have your voice by heart, I read
In the black chords upon a dulling page
Music that is not meant for music’s cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.
The staves are shuttled over with a stark
Unprinted silence. In a double dream
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.
The beat’s too swift. The notes shift in the dark.
Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.
Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.
Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.
#8 Wedding Prayer
BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Lord, behold our family here assembled.
We thank you for this place in which we dwell,
for the love that unites us,
for the peace accorded us this day,
for the hope with which we expect the morrow,
for the health, the work, the food,
and the bright skies that make our lives delightful;
for our friends in all parts of the earth.
#9 The Master Speed
BY ROBERT FROST
No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still—
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.
#10 On Love
BY KAHLIL GIBRAN
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have
desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own under-
standing of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the
beloved in your heart and a song of praise
upon your lips.
#11 Most Like an Arch This Marriage
BY JOHN CIARDI
From I Marry You (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1958)
Most like an arch—an entrance which upholds
and shores the stone-crush up the air like lace.
Mass made idea, and idea held in place.
A lock in time. Inside half-heaven unfolds.
Most like an arch—two weaknesses that lean
into a strength. Two fallings become firm.
Two joined abeyances become a term
naming the fact that teaches fact to mean.
Not quite that? Not much less. World as it is,
what’s strong and separate falters. All I do
at piling stone on stone apart from you
is roofless around nothing. Till we kiss
I am no more than upright and unset.
It is by falling in and in we make
the all-bearing point, for one another’s sake,
in faultless failing, raised by our own weight.
BY ELLEN BASS
From Poetry (April 2018)
When you finally, after deep illness, lay
the length of your body on mine, isn’t it
like the strata of the earth, the pressure
of time on sand, mud, bits of shell, all
the years, uncountable wakings, sleepings,
sleepless nights, fights, ordinary mornings
talking about nothing, and the brief
fiery plummets, and the unselfconscious
silences of animals grazing, the moving
water, wind, ice that carries the minutes, leaves
behind minerals that bind the sediment into rock.
How to bear the weight, with every
flake of bone pressed in. Then, how to bear when
the weight is gone, the way a woman
whose neck has been coiled with brass
can no longer hold it up alone. Oh love,
it is balm, but also a seal. It binds us tight
as the fur of a rabbit to the rabbit.
When you strip it, grasping the edge
of the sliced skin, pulling the glossy membranes
apart, the body is warm and limp. If you could,
you’d climb inside that wet, slick skin
and carry it on your back. This is not
neat and white and lacy like a wedding,
not the bright effervescence of champagne
spilling over the throat of the bottle. This visceral
bloody union that is love, but
beyond love. Beyond charm and delight
the way you to yourself are past charm and delight.
This is the shucked meat of love, the alleys and broken
glass of love, the petals torn off the branches of love,
the dizzy hoarse cry, the stubborn hunger.
#13 Marriage of Many Years
BY DANA GIOIA
From 99 Poems (2016)
Most of what happens happens beyond words.
The lexicon of lip and fingertip
defies translation into common speech.
I recognize the musk of your dark hair.
It always thrills me, though I can’t describe it.
My finger on your thigh does not touch skin—
it touches your skin warming to my touch.
You are a language I have learned by heart.
This intimate patois will vanish with us,
its only native speakers. Does it matter?
Our tribal chants, our dances round the fire
performed the sorcery we most required.
They bound us in a spell time could not break.
Let the young vaunt their ecstasy. We keep
our tribe of two in sovereign secrecy.
What must be lost was never lost on us.
#14 To My Daughter On Being Separated from Her on Her Marriage
BY ANNE HUNTER
Dear to my heart as life’s warm stream
Which animates this mortal clay,
For thee I court the waking dream,
And deck with smiles the future day;
And thus beguile the present pain
With hopes that we shall meet again.
Yet, will it be as when the past
Twined every joy, and care, and thought,
And o’er our minds one mantle cast
Of kind affections finely wrought?
Ah no! the groundless hope were vain,
For so we ne’er can meet again!
May he who claims thy tender heart
Deserve its love, as I have done!
For, kind and gentle as thou art,
If so beloved, thou art fairly won.
Bright may the sacred torch remain,
And cheer thee till we meet again!
#15 Advice to Her Son on Marriage
BY MARY BARBER
From The Conclusion of a Letter to the Rev. Mr C—
When you gain her Affection, take care to preserve it;
Lest others persuade her, you do not deserve it.
Still study to heighten the Joys of her Life;
Not treat her the worse, for her being your Wife.
If in Judgment she errs, set her right, without Pride:
’Tis the Province of insolent Fools, to deride.
A Husband’s first Praise, is a Friend and Protector:
Then change not these Titles, for Tyrant and Hector.
Let your Person be neat, unaffectedly clean,
Tho’ alone with your wife the whole Day you remain.
Chuse Books, for her study, to fashion her Mind,
To emulate those who excell’d of her Kind.
Be Religion the principal Care of your Life,
As you hope to be blest in your Children and Wife:
So you, in your Marriage, shall gain its true End;
And find, in your Wife, a Companion and Friend.
#16 Six Songs of Love, Constancy, Romance, Inconstancy, Truth, and Marriage
BY LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON
Oh! would that love had power to raise
A little isle for us alone,
With fairy flowers, and sunny rays,
The blue sea wave its guardian zone.
No other step should ever press
This hidden Eden of the heart,
And we would share its loveliness,
From every other thing apart.
The rose and violet should weep,
Whene’er our leafy couch was laid,
The lark should wake our morning sleep,
The bulbul sing our serenade.
And we would watch the starry hours,
And call the moon to hear our vows,
And we would cull the sweetest flowers,
And twine fresh chaplets for our brows.
#17 On Marriage
BY KAHLIL GIBRAN
Then Almitra spoke again and said, And
what of Marriage, master?
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you
shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white
wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the
silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between
the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from
Give one another of your bread but eat
not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous,
but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone
though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain
And stand together yet not too near
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow
not in each other’s shadow.
#18 Variation on the Word Sleep
BY MARGARET ATWOOD
I would like to watch you sleeping.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head
and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear
I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in
I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.
#19 Touched by an Angel
BY MAYA ANGELOU
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
#20 This Marriage
May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.
#21 The Privileged Lovers
The moon has become a dancer
at this festival of love.
This dance of light,
This sacred blessing,
This divine love,
to a world beyond
only lovers can see
with their eyes of fiery passion.
They are the chosen ones
who have surrendered.
Once they were particles of light
now they are the radiant sun.
They have left behind
the world of deceitful games.
They are the privileged lovers
who create a new world
with their eyes of fiery passion.