It can be hard to break from the ceremonial wedding tradition of uttering, “Love is patient, love is kind.” It almost feels as if reciting the popular Bible verse is expected and if it’s not said, the marriage doesn’t count — screw the certificate!
And sure, First Corinthians is a romantic passage that describes a beautifully idealistic type of love, but what if it doesn’t really sum up who you and your finace are as a couple? What if you’re gay and have had a complicated relationship with religion? Or what if you are simply planning on having a secular wedding? You may not want a Judea-Christian passage to represent your love.
If you are searching for a few queer-friendly readings that are far from expected — and more importantly — far from religious, here are a few plucked from the literary landscape:
E.E. Cummings, “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]”
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)
E.E. Cummings was no friend of Dorothy himself, but he did live across from Djuna Barnes and frequently shouted into her window to make sure the reclusive lesbian was alive and well. Basically, he was a major ally — a lesbro, if you will. This poem was also considered avant-garde. It broke from conventions and helped poetry evolve, which can act as a strong metaphor for gay marriage.
Walt Whitman, “When I Heard at the Close of the Day”
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening came my friend,
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to me whispering to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast – and that night I was happy.
Walt Whitman was gay and he makes that abundantly clear in the poem. He is considered one of the seminal gay poets in the literary world, as well as a formative poet in general.
Frank O’Hara, “Having A Coke With You”
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
Frank O’Hara, like Walt Whitman, was as straight as a circle. His poems are informal, conversational, and sprinkled with a ton of humor. If you’re going for a more laid back vibe while reciting your vows, Frank O’Hara is an excellent choice.
Adrienne Rich, “21 Love Poems”
I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
You’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone...
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.
Adrienne Rich shined a light on lesbians and the oppression of women in her poetry. This poem is full of love and is also clearly about a repressed sme-sex relationship burning to be free. It also definitely has some edge and is perfect for the couple who wants a bit of bite in their ceremony.
Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
Yes, this is the second poem by Walt Whitman, but Whitman wrote so much about gay love that it’s almost impossible not to include him twice. This except is perfect for an adventurous, couple that lives to wander the earth together, hand in hand. This poem is also also quite long, with plenty of pretty passages to choose from.
Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Mary Oliver is considered one of the best American poets out there, having won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. And she was with her partner, Molly Malone Cook, for over 40 years. Nothing says “I thee wed” like a poem by a person who said of her partner “I took one look and fell, hook and tumble.”
W.H. Auden, “Foxtrot From a Play”
The soldier loves his rifle,
The scholar loves his books,
The farmer loves his horses,
The film star loves her looks.
There’s love the whole world over
Wherever you may be;
Some lose their rest for gay Mae West,
But you’re my cup of tea.
Auden was a little bit gay. Or a lot gay. In fact, Auden called his relationship with fellow poet Chester Kallman a marriage. They even took a cross country journey they called a honeymoon way before gay marriage was even on the horizon (we’re talking 1939).
This poem is also quite whimsical with a sing-song tone, making it perfect for ceremonies that include a couple’s kids.
Gertrude Stein, “Two Love Letters to Alice B. Toklas”
Dear dainty delicious darling, dear
sweet selected [enemifier?] of my soul
dear beloved baby dear everything
to me when this you see you will
have slept long and will be warm
and completely [loudly?] loved by
me dear wifey, [your?] baby
This is a love letter from Gertrude Stein to Alice B. Toklas. Stein met Toklas in 1907 on her first day in Paris. They would go on to do very fabulous things together, like Stein introducing Toklas to Pablo Picasso and surviving German occupation in World War II. They remained partners until Stein’s death and they loved each other deeply.
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