“Poetry Arrived in Search of Me …” Our Ceremony Readings
A couple of weeks ago, my beloved and I met with our officiant for the final time before the rehearsal. We finalized the details of the ceremony, chose our vows and selected our readings. I wanted the vows to be as conventional as possible. Although I recognize that self-written vows are intended to be sweet, I usually find them trite, formulaic and awkward to observe. After speaking with Carolyn, Rich and I decided to choose fairly conventional, “pre-fabricated” vows, if you will. Love, honor and cherish … that sort of thing. We decided that we would choose our readings in order to reflect a little bit more on our personalities: We chose two Biblical readings to signify our respect for tradition and our understanding of the importance and sanctity of the promise we’ll be making, but for our last reading we chose a poem by my favorite poet, Pablo Neruda, that is definitely unconventional and a lot more intimate. It’s quite a sensual poem, so for me it’s pushing the envelope a bit (as far as I’m willing to push it in a house of worship, that is). The first, very brief reading, is from the Old Testament. Carolyn suggested that we weave it into our vows, but that’s still a work in progress. It’s from Ruth, Chapter 1, verses 16 and 17:
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be burried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you from me.”
Our second reading will be longer, the tried and true 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13:
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end … And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Pablo Neruda as a young man
Lastly, we chose a poem by the great Chilean politician and poet, Pablo Neruda. Though most of his love poetry is quite erotic and therefore inappropriate for a wedding ceremony in front of our conservative families, I found one that is deeply intimate and sensual but not overtly erotic. It’s also very beautiful, and though it might strike some of our older reltives as a bit too personal for the setting, it’s one of my favorites. Amid the conventional music, traditional vows and Biblical verses, it’ll be like a dash of color, a small flicker of our personality as a couple. It’s Neruda’s Sonnett XVII, sometimes referred to as the perfect love poem:
I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving
but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.
Pablo Neruda, Nobel Poet Laureate