Selecting readings for your wedding can be overwhelming; the sheer number of options inevitably leads down a long Google rabbit hole, leaving you with an avalanche of great options and no decisions.
The right readings can set the tone for your ceremony, reflect the foundation you’re building, and chart the course for the beginning of your lives together. But where do you start?
First, take into account what you want your overall ceremony to feel like—bright and cheerful, or more romantic and beautiful? Does spirituality play a role, or a connection to nature? Are you quirky or traditional? Or maybe you want to find that just right combination of humor and heart. Knowing your vibe goes a long way in narrowing down the types of readings you’re looking for.
Also, consider who will be doing the readings. Asking a 7-year-old to recite Shakespeare’s “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” is cruel, for everyone involved. Make sure whomever will be doing the readings is comfortable with the language, length, and content.
Finally, think about who you are as a couple. What aspects of your relationship, or hopes for the future, are important to highlight? This is a great opportunity to talk about what you both value and identify with, from the political, to the scientific, to the emotional.
Below is a selection of reading options, ranging from the playful to the academic, to help inspire a ceremony uniquely suited to you.
You Came, Too
It’s hard to narrow down all of the incredible poems by acclaimed poet and activist Nikki Giovanni, however You Came, Too is a great place to start. (Couples can’t go wrong with her poems Love, Is and And I Have You, as well!)
I came to the crowd seeking friends
I came to the crowd seeking love
I came to the crowd for understanding
I found you
I came to the crowd to weep
I came to the crowd to laugh
You dried my tears
You shared my happiness
I went from the crowd seeking you
I went from the crowd seeking me
I went from the crowd forever
You came, too
Love is a Collaborative Work of Art
In their groundbreaking work Metaphors We Live By, Cognitive Linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson write powerfully about the concept of love being “a collaborative work of art.” Lakoff would later use this work as a platform for arguing in favor of marriage equality.
Love is work.
Love is active.
Love requires cooperation. Love requires dedication. Love requires compromise. Love requires discipline.
Love involves shared responsibility. Love requires patience.
Love requires shared values and goals.
Love demands sacrifice. Love regularly brings frustration.
Love requires instinctive communication. Love is an aesthetic experience.
Love is primarily valued for its own sake. Love involves creativity.
Love requires a shared aesthetic. Love cannot be achieved by formula.
Love is unique in each instance.
Love is an expression of who you are.
Love creates a reality.
Love reflects how you see the world.
Love requires the greatest honesty. Love may be transient or permanent.
Love needs funding.
Love yields a shared aesthetic satisfaction from your joint efforts.
I Like You
Celebrate the fun, joyful, yet deeply honest aspects of love through excerpts of author Sandol Stoddard children’s book, I Like You which strikes that right balance of sweet but not saccharine.
I like you because
I don't know why but
Everything that happens
Is nicer with you
On the Fourth of July
I like you because it's the Fourth of July.
On the Fifth of July I like you too.
If you and I had some drums
And some horns and some horses
If we had some hats and some
flags and some fire engines
We could be a HOLIDAY
We could be a CELEBRATION
We could be a WHOLE PARADE
Even if it was August
Even if it was the bottom of November
Even if it was no place particular in January
I would go on choosing you
And you would go on choosing me
Over and over again
That's how it would happen every time
I don't know why
I guess I dodn't know why I like you really.
Why do I like you?
I guess I just like you.
I just guess I do.
Love is Not to Possess
Written by former Catholic Priest, activist, and reformer James Kavanaugh, the poem Love is Not to Possess is a gorgeous reflection how joy in marriage is found through equality and the ability to be fully, independently ourselves.
To love is not to possess,
To own or imprison,
Nor to lose one's self in another.
Love is to join and separate,
To walk alone and together,
To find a laughing freedom
That lonely isolation does not permit.
It is finally to be able
To be who we really are
No longer clinging in childish dependency
Nor docilely living separate lives in silence,
It is to be perfectly one's self
And perfectly joined in permanent commitment
To another–and to one's inner self.
Love only endures when it moves like waves,
Receding and returning gently or passionately,
Or moving lovingly like the tide
In the moon's own predictable harmony,
Because finally, despite a child's scars
Or an adult's deepest wounds,
They are openly free to be
Who they really are–and always secretly were,
In the very core of their being
Where true and lasting love can alone abide.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Majority Opinion
Soon after the Supreme Court handed down the Obergefell V. Hodges decision, at last codifying marriage rights for all people, Justice Kennedy’s eloquent majority opinion became a popular choice for weddings of queer and allied couples alike, celebrating that we all have the same protections, rights and benefits.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
Invitation to Love
One of the first Black poets to achieve wide-spread acclaim in the United States, Paul Laurence Dunbar writes an evocative and moving description of love in Invitation to Love.
Come when the nights are bright with stars;
Or when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come, O love, whene’er you may,
And you are welcome, welcome.
You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,
You are soft as the nesting dove.
Come to my heart and bring it rest
As the bird flies home to its welcome nest.
Come when my heart is full of grief
Or when my heart is merry;
Come with the falling of the leaf
Or with the redd’ning cherry.
Come when the year’s first blossom blows,
Come when the summer gleams and glows,
Come with the winter’s drifting snows,
And you are welcome, welcome.
Calvin and Hobbes
Don’t be afraid to have fun with your reading selections! This conversation between Calvin and Hobbes is great read by two people, and a fun way to set the tone for a lively celebration.
Calvin: What’s it like to fall in love?
Hobbes: Well… say the object of your affection walks by…
Hobbes: First, your heart falls into your stomach and splashes your innards. All the moisture makes you sweat profusely. This condensation shorts the circuits to your brain and you get all woozy. When your brain burns out altogether, your mouth disengages and you babble like a cretin until they leave.
Calvin: THAT’S LOVE?!?
Hobbes: Medically speaking.
Calvin: Heck, that happened to me once, but I figured it was cooties!
Anne of Avonlea
The Anne of Green Gables series has been beloved for generations. This excerpt from the second book in the series, Anne of Avonlea, is ideal for relationships that grew out of friendship.
Perhaps, after all, romance did not come in to one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay night riding down; perhaps it crept into one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until a sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music; perhaps… perhaps… love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
This is My Wish for You
Ralph Waldo Emmerson’s poem, This is My Wish For You, reads like a blessing and would be lovely read at any point in the ceremony—in the vows, or even read by the couple to the friends and family in attendance.
This is my wish for you:
Comfort on difficult days,
smiles when sadness intrudes,
rainbows to follow the clouds,
laughter to kiss your lips,
sunsets to warm your heart,
hugs when spirits sag,
beauty for your eyes to see,
friendships to brighten your being,
faith so that you can believe,
confidence for when you doubt,
courage to know yourself,
patience to accept the truth,
love to complete your life.
Love All That is Your Life Together and All Else Will Follow
Part blessing, part sage advice, part gentle reminders, His Holiness the Dalai Lama imparts great wisdom in this excerpt from his writing, Instructions for Life in the New Millennium.
Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk. And that a loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life. Be gentle with the earth, be gentle with one another. When disagreements come remember always to protect the spirit of your union. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other. So love yourselves, love one another, love all that is your life together and all else will follow.
While it may seem practical at first, Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s poem Scaffolding is a short, and sweet love note celebrating the security we feel when we have built a strong, safe foundation.
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won't slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints,
And yet all this comes down when the job's done,
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
Love is an Outpouring of Everything Good in You
In a heartfelt letter to his son, John Steinbeck writes openly about finding love in our lives and embracing it.
First — if you are in love — that's a good thing — that's about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don't let anyone make it small or light to you.
[Love] is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect…[Love] can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn't know you had.
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.
Written by Erin Sernoffsky | Cover photo from Jaimie and Chelsea's Cleveland Estate Wedding, captured by Anne Spires Photography