Classic APW – Words To Read When You Wed: Ashes, Tea

As I’ve reprised Amanda’s Words To Read When You Wed seires (Part I, Part II, now with Cara’s amazing photographs), I’ve been purposely vague about which of these readings we used in our wedding. But I will tell you that we used Craig Arnold’s poem from today’s selection. It was a fraught choice, and people were very confused as to why we’d have a poem about death at our wedding. But it was what we wanted to say. Not just that we loved each other, but as my Dad finally said, “Weddings are about death. That’s the whole point.” So we did. And it was the right choice.

And then, when I started re-running Amanda’s amazing wedding readings, I got an email from a reader. She told me I could share a bit with you:

“It would mean so much if you and Amanda reprised the Craig Arnold poem you put up last February. Craig was a wonderful friend and poet who died tragically and unexpectedly in an accident last year. He was so excited when I pointed out that his work was presented as a potential reading for weddings on your site. It thrilled him to his sweet, fun, funny core that his words might guest star in such important moments in like-minded peoples’ lives. He told everyone for days about how excited the idea of ‘being a reading’ made him.”

So this post is for those who loved him. Craig got to ‘be a reading’ at our wedding last August, and we could not have been happier to have him there. Thank you, for letting us borrow him, if only for a few very present, very important moments of our lives.

For “sickness,” for “poorer,” for “dust” and “until.”


— Ben Franklin

Josiah Franklin and Abiah his wife
lie here interred.
They lived lovingly together in wedlock fifty-five years;
and without an estate or any gainful employment,
with God’s blessing,
maintained a large family comfortably;
and brought up thirteen children and seven grandchildren
From this instance, reader,
be encouraged to diligence in thy calling, by constant labour,
and honest industry, and distrust not Providence.
He was a pious and prudent man,
she a discreet and virtuous woman.
Their youngest son,
in filial regard to their memory,
places this stone.

–Craig Arnold

It is nothing that they did
Or could have helped, two people
Falling in love. Not even
Because they shared a toothbrush,
Once. It is their germs
Getting acquainted.
For weeks
They take turns being sick
–one makes the tea, the other
answers the phone. Slowly,
they can’t tell better from worse.
This goes on
Until one dies.

–Sandol Stoddard Warburg

And I like you because when I am feeling sad, you don’t always cheer me up right away. Sometimes it is better to be sad.
You can’t stand the others being so googly and gaggly every single minute.
You want to think about things.
It takes time.

I like you because if I am mad at you, then you are mad at me too.
It’s awful when the other person isn’t. Phooey.
They are so nice and hoo-hoo you could just about punch them in the nose.

I like you because if I think I am going to throw up, then you are really sorry.
You don’t just pretend you are busy looking at the birdies and all that.
You say, “maybe it was something you ate.”
You say, “same thing happened to me one time.”
And the same thing did.

If you find two four-leaf clovers, you give me one.
If I find four, I give you two.
If we only find three, we keep on looking.

Sometimes we have good luck and sometimes we don’t.

If I break my arm and if you break your arm too, then it is fun to have a broken arm.
I tell you about mine; you tell me about yours.
We are both sorry.
We write our names and draw pictures.
We show everybody and they wish they had a broken arm too.

–Tom Robbins

Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules. The most any of us can do is to sign on as its accomplice. Instead of vowing to honor and obey, maybe we should swear to aid and abet. That would mean that security is out of the question. The words “make” and “stay” become inappropriate. My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.


— Alfred, Lord Tennyson

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me —
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads …
Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides: and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Photos: by my lady Cara, except the tiny flower girl which is by Cara & Her Husband The Boy aka Lillian & Leonard (from this amazing wedding graduate’s wedding)

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  • I was just at a wedding where “I Like You” was used! (They read the entire thing.) I loved it. They also used “Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog,” which made everyone who knew the couple well cry, because they lost their beloved dalmatian a week and a half before the wedding. :(

    Anyway, yes. Good reading. :)

    Oh, and I think this one features my fave Woodpecker segment yet.

    • Anna


      I looked up the “Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog”. I’d never heard of it, but thought it might work for us–we have a golden retriever puppy. I LOVE it. Thanks for the reference!


      • Ragon

        Thank you for mentioning “Falling in love is like owning a dog”. Like Anna, I just looked it up and it is so perfect for us. I like Taylor Mali’s stuff anyway and this poem seems perfect for us, especially because our two dogs will be in the wedding and our mutual love for our pups was part of what drew us together.

        I really like that Tom Robbins selection as well….maybe for the program?

        My fiance and I don’t have exactly similar tastes when it comes to readings so trying to find stuff we both resonate with has been a challenge.

      • Emily

        Yes! LOVE “Falling in Love Is Like Owning a Dog”.

        We used it at our wedding and it is still the only time I have ever heard actual applause break out for a reading at a wedding!

  • ddayporter

    wow that was not an intro I was expecting. I was not familiar with Craig Arnold before this series on APW, how wonderful that you shared him with us, and that he knew and was so pleased. and how sad he is now gone. :(
    ..leaving me very quiet and thoughtful this morning..

  • This remains my favorite of the bunch.

    • meg

      Mine too.

  • Michele

    Love, Love, LOVE the passage from Still Life with Woodpecker. We used that in our wedding.

  • “I like you because if I think I am going to throw up, then you are really sorry.
    You don’t just pretend you are busy looking at the birdies and all that.”

    I just about spit out my coffee.

    • I’d say that one is my favorite too…

      We always think we have a stomach bug- and we talk about it, debate the cause, review our menus from days before, and think about it some more. I love it. :)

      We comfort each other in our ailments and I love that too.

  • J

    I love these. Just wanted to say that.

  • Amy

    We used “I Like You” at our wedding, but we used almost completely different parts of it than what you’ve got here. If you like that style, you might want to check out Rives at This is from Compliment and it was a pretty serious contender for us.

    “But I’m not insisting you’re some kind of goddess,
    (I know you’re suspicious of unspecific love poems).
    You’re more like a sunflower,
    growing in the courtyard of an old folks home–
    you mean things to people on a daily basis,
    and this petty poem won’t explain
    just how “my favorite” your face is,
    (but I wish I’d been your bathroom mirror
    the day they took off your braces). “

    • Oh my goodness, I love that! Tears welling up. Thank you for sharing, Amy. My wedding is at the end of this month. Looks like I’ve got another reading to consider!

    • Ahhhhh, amazing. Thank you for this :)

    • Theresa

      I looked up Rives and found this: and it gave me chills. Thank you for sharing. :)

      • This is beyond. Beyond. AUH-mazing.

    • Elyssa

      This comment should come with a disclaimer: do not read on period, tears eminent.

  • I love that this post featured an excerpt from “I Like You”. We’re definitely planning to use that as one of our readings, though we haven’t yet decided which parts of it to use (I fear some of our guests may fall asleep if we use the whole book). I feel like it so sums up our relationship–we’re silly and goofy and best friends and know each other SO MUCH BETTER than I ever could have imagined knowing another person. And it is wonderful.


    Making my tear up before the work day… love it. I’m emailing the Craig Arnold one to my FF right now.

  • We used “I like you” as well, though we edited it and used different bits than what you’ve posted here. And nobody fell asleep. And geese honked throughout the time my cousin was reading it.

  • Marina

    The Craig Arnold poem gave me chills, especially in context of recent discussions about the bad days and the bad years. “Slowly, / they can’t tell better from worse.” Maybe the goal is to, eventually, have the “bad” years and the “good” years blend together until it’s all just one marriage, one life, with no parts you’d wish to skip or take back. Because there’s good in the “bad” parts too… and I say this as someone who’s only been married a year, so the most I’ve had is 3 “bad” months, but oh boy were they bad… but the thing is, I am glad they happened. I’m glad for the things we learned, and I’m glad I know we can get through that, and I’m glad we’re the people we are and have the relationship we have because of it. Are the easy parts “better” or “worse” than the hard parts?

  • I love the Stoddard poem/children’s book. We were thinking about asking my daughter and niece to read a few pages of it (they’ll be 7 and 8 at our wedding).

    Also, can I say just how much I love this line from Still Life with Woodpecker: “My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”

  • peanut

    ohhhh Meg you’re killing me with these amazing ceremony posts … it’s the biggest source of wedding-stress for us right now, because we’re having and international wedding (as in, a different country where English isn’t the language, although many people speak it) and I feel like reading such as Living with it would just sounds strange to most of our guests. Like, we’ll end on “Until one dies” and everyone will look at each other like “WTF??” I know, I know, I know that the ceremony is a reflection of us as a couple and that we should pick readings that reflect us and our philosophy, but it’s hard to completely discount how our guests will react. I’m kind of beating myself up about caring so much about what others think, but I can’t help it; sometimes it just seems easier to read a shakespeare sonnet and be done with it, you know?

    Keep ’em coming … I love the happily tearful morning eyes I get when one of these posts pop up :)

  • liz


    i would like to request that you please make this a weekly occurance and post one ceremony-type reading per week, please.

    thank you.

  • Robyn

    Todays post gave me chills. I knew Craig Arnold, he truly was an amazing man and inspired so many in our small town in Wyoming. How strange that this post should come right as I’m looking for readings for my own wedding, to be held in the town we both lived.

  • Lindsey

    We used parts of “I Like You” as well, we had my husband’s cousin (who is an elementary school teacher) read it and it was just wonderful. So many people told us how much they liked it and how much it felt like us to have it in the ceremony.

    The other works here are beautiful as well, I am sending this to my best friend who is getting married next year!

  • MinnaBrynn

    We used “I Like You.” I worried at first that it would be too long, so we broke it up into pieces that made sense to us and asked our friends to stand up wherever they were seated and read their part in order. We tried to fit the person to the part so much as we could (example, a nurse got the part about throwing up, the part about the broken arm went to DH’s brother who broke his arm as a child which made a young DH wish he had one too). It was hands down the best part of our ceremony. I cannot describe how powerful it was to hear so many of our friends take part in our ceremony. I loved every moment of it, even when our neighbor added some of his own words to his assigned reading. I gave a copy of it to DH when we were dating, it was there on our wedding day, and I like the idea of someday reading it with our future kids. It feels like something that’s growing up with us, and I like that.

  • Ragon

    Thank you Irisira for mentioning “Falling in love is like owning a dog”. Like Anna, I looked it up and LOVE it. Since our two dogs will be part of the wedding and our love for our pups helped solidify our bond, it seems perfect. I also love that Tom Robbins quotation. I have too many ideas, I think!

    The hard part is that my fiance and I don’t have the same taste in the written word so finding something that makes us both excited has been hard. Or rather, there are lots of readings that make me excited and he doesn’t have strong opinions about most of them or anything in particular he wants read instead. So I guess I’ll just choose things that I like!

  • Kate

    This is on a very different note than “I Like You” et al., but I highly recommend the Celtic poem The Loves of Taliesin as a wedding reading. (Just pre-engaged here but a major liturgy nerd . . . ) I can’t find a link for the entire thing but if you’re into stately sounding poetry, please Google it and consider buying a book. It describes the beauty of creation (including God-language and Trinity-language if that’s an issue) but including pleasures like drinking and feasting, and weaves the theme of a wedding throughout, showing how marriage is one part of a beautiful life. Ah. I love it!

    • Amandover

      That sounds wonderful, and I’d love to read it. I know you couldn’t find the whole text online, but do you know an author, date it was written, or other source? Googling doesn’t seem to have any obvious answers. Thanks!

  • Oh my wow, those are gorgeous readings! I love “I like you” and like PP’er the line from Tom Robbins “My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.”

    Now to decide how to approach the ceremony/readings with the fiance. We’re not typically “traditionally” romantic with each other, more silly and funny, so trying to decide how mushy we get with the ceremony is interesting…

    Also, Meg, I really like “For “sickness,” for “poorer,” for “dust” and “until.”” and I’m very grumpy it’s not a real poem. Maybe I’ll have to try my hand at writing something to make it work…

  • Christina

    “Weddings are about death. That’s the whole point.”

    I’m so glad you posted that. I have been feeling like my increased fear of death since getting engaged is something abnormal. But it’s true…marriage means commitment until death. And it brings the thought of death into the spot light along with all of the wonderful things. You’re committing to be there when that person dies, or for that person to be there when you die. I can hardly handle thinking about my own death, let alone my fiance’s. It’s terrifying. When you take a spouse, you feel your sense of safety and comfort increase, but you also take on a lot of vulnerability. But I feel like now that someone else has acknowledged it, I can at least talk about it with my fiance without feeling morbid.

  • Such a great post, and an amazing series. I would be lost without APW.

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