Classic APW – Words To Read When You Wed: Olives, Leaves

Today we continue down our meandering path of discussing ceremonies (because, yup, it’s that time of year). This is Amanda of First Milk’s second set of modern wedding readings (see Part I), now part of the Classic APW pantheon. This selection bends towards the classics (actual, not APW related). It ends with a passage that lights up my face, one Amanda selected without having any idea that I loved it so much I’d used it in a performance piece when I was just 21. So I give you images, readings, magical synergy. Amanda, take it away…

Gifts and ornaments, wishes, grins. For giving, for keeping, for sending off, raising high.

–Homer, Translation by Robert Fitzgerald

There is our pact and pledge, our secret sign,
Built into that bed—my handiwork
And no one else’s!
An old trunk of olive
Grew like a pillar on the building plot,
And I laid out our bedroom round that tree,
Lined up the stone walls, built the walls and roof,
Gave it a doorway and smooth-fitting doors.
Then I lopped off the silver leaves and branches,
Hewed and shaped that stump from the roots up
Into a bedpost, drilled it, let it serve a model for the rest. I planed them all,
Inlaid them all with silver, gold and ivory,
And stretched a bed between—a pliant web
Of oxhide thongs died crimson.

There’s our sign!

–Edmund Spenser

And ye high heavens, the temple of the gods,
In which a thousand torches flaming bright
Doe burne that to us wretched earthly clods,
In dreadful darknesse lend desired light;
And all ye powers which in the same remayne
More than we men can fayne,
Poure out your blessing on us plenteously,
And happy influence upon us raine,
That we may raise a large posterity,
Which from the earth, which they may long possesse,
With lasting happinesse,
Up to your haughty palaces may mount,
And for the guerdon of theyr glorious merit
May heavily tabernacles there inherit,
Of blessed Saints for to increase the count.
So let us rest, sweet love, in hope of this,
And cease till then our timely joyes to sing,
The woods no more us answer, nor our eccho ring.

Song made in lieu of many ornaments,
With which m love should duly have bene dect,
Which cutting off through hasty accidents,
Ye would not stay your dew time to expect,
But promist both to recompens,
Be unto her a goodly ornament,
And for short time an endlesse moniment.

–Leo Tolstoy

There was only anticipation—fear and joy of the new and the unknown. And in a few moments now, the anticipation and the unknown, the remorse and the renunciation of her old life—everything would come to an end, a new life would begin…
Turning again to the lectern, the priest with some difficulty picked up Kitty’s little ring, and, asking Levin for his hand, put it on the top of his finger. “With this ring I wed thee, Konstantin, servant of God, to the servant of God, Katherine.” And putting the big ring on Kitty’s slender, rosy finger, pathetic in its weakness, the priest repeated the same words.
Several times Levin and Kitty tried to guess what they had to do, and every time they were wrong and the priest corrected them in a whisper. At last, having done what was necessary, he again made the sign of the cross over them with the rings and again gave the large ring to Kitty and the little one to Levin, again they got confused and twice passed the rings backward and forward without getting it right.
Dolly, Chirikov, and Koznyshev came forward to help them. The result was more confusion, whispering, and smiles, but the touchingly solemn expression on the faces of the young couple did not change; on the contrary, while mixed up over their hands, they looked more serious and solemn than before, and the smile with which Oblonksy whispered to them to put on their rings involuntarily died on his lips. He could not help feeling that any kind of smile would hurt them.

–Walt Whitman

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there
without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it and
twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana
solitary in a wide in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.

–Herman Melville

He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mind, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning in his country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be…
After supper, and another social chat and smoke, we went to our room together. He made me a present of his embalmed head; took out his enormous tobacco wallet, and groping under the tobacco, drew out some thirty dollars in silver; then spreading them on the table, and mechanically dividing them into two equal portions, pushed one towards me, and said it was mine.

-–Tom Robbins

Who knows how to make love stay?
1. Tell love you are going to Junior’s Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if love stays, it can have half. It will stay.
2. Tell love you want a memento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic l
anguage. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a mustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someone new. It will stay.
3. Wake love up in the middle of the night. Tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.

Pictures: Tree and House via Flickr, Curtdeath; Louisiana Oak via Flickr, Nellie Vin, Bed via the fabulous fabulous fabulous Jen Gotch

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  • Uzo

    OMG! I think I am first?

    I have been lurking here since last year (all the way from NY and now Nigeria) and I love love this site.

    THis site gives me HOPE :)

  • Love the piece from Moby Dick. Thanks for these!

  • Jesslulu

    This English major rejoices! Thanks a bunch, not only for these readings but for inspiring me to remember others I’d like to use in my ceremony.

  • I love, love, LOVE Still Life with Woodpecker! I adore Tom Robbins but I think Woodpecker might be my favorite of his books (Jitterbug Perfume comes close). I have had that passage about cheesecake and love bookmarked since I first read it six years ago, and I was thinking about maybe using it as part of my vows/the ceremony somehow.
    I also used part of it in a Yelp review for Junior’s cheesecake…**sheepish**. For serious, though, this is amazing. I love that passage. LOVE.

  • liz

    i hope this series doesn’t end.

    • yeah yeah! i love this series. keep it up, please. thanks :)

    • meg

      You hope it *never* ends? Oh! Which reminds me….

  • Erica

    So, ok, I LOVE this idea. My friend Jen is getting married and they’re not religious (and I personally get tired of hearing the same readings over and over and over again). So this is really interesting to see. I also happen to dog-ear beautiful passages in everything I read.

    But I have to say, no matter how gorgeous any one passage is (and my goodness are they gorgeous) I would not want ANNA KARENINA read at my wedding. That’s a bit weighty, even if taken out of context. I mean, we all know how that story goes? It’s not pretty.

    So while I like the inspiration for non-bible readings, I think context is still important since you’re going to attribute the reading to the larger work, for course.

    • Erica

      Erica–I am also named Erica, which amusingly makes this reply seem as though we are one person of two minds! Anyway, I just wanted to say that Anna Karenina does not end badly for Kitty and Levin! Their romance is possibly the sweetest and most convincingly hopeful love story ever written. So yes, context does matter, but I don’t think that context should by any means exclude this passage.

      I love this topic and the many wonderful suggestions posted after Part I; thank-you, everyone!

  • jolynn

    I love the Tom Robbins passage, also! My partner is a timber framer, so that piece about the oak and the other about hewing the bedpost speak to me quite a bit. <3!

  • Meg P

    We’re getting married in the Catholic church so naturally all our readings are from the bible but I was determined not to have the Corinthians reading that EVERYONE has, you know “Love is… Love is never…”? It’s a beautiful reading but I was determined to pick some that were a little less familiar and I’m glad I did that extra research because there are some truly beautiful bible readings about marriage that are really neglected!

    • meg

      Want to shoot me some of your research? Seriously.

      • We had Song of Solomon as one of our readings:

        Song of Solomon 2:10-13 (New International Version)

        10 My lover spoke and said to me,
        “Arise, my darling,
        my beautiful one, and come with me.

        11 See! The winter is past;
        the rains are over and gone.

        12 Flowers appear on the earth;
        the season of singing has come,
        the cooing of doves
        is heard in our land.

        13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
        the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
        Arise, come, my darling;
        my beautiful one, come with me.”

        I loved this one because it was more about poetry than religion, but still came from the bible so it was a nice gesture for my family.

    • Darcy

      Our ceremony was Unitarian because we were both raised different flavours of Christian and are non-practicing. So I was surprised when our officiant suggested the following reading:

      Two are better than one,
      because they have a good return for their work:
      If one falls down,
      his friend can help him up.
      But pity the man who falls
      and has no one to help him up!
      Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
      But how can one keep warm alone?
      Though one may be overpowered,
      two can defend themselves.
      A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
      Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

      • Morgan

        For our (kind of accidentally) Luthern wedding, we had to pick two bible verses. Both Dave and I grew up in generic non-practicing Christian homes, so had no real knowedgle of, well, any of it, let alone what readings to use. We ended up picking both of these! Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 and Song of Solomon 2:10-13. Such beautiful poetry and wors.

  • Kim

    I love this series too! I read it the first time through and this Tom Robbins passage stuck with me (among others!). One of the guiding priorities of our ceremony is to have many voices, most importantly to include words from our loved ones as much as possible. One example is that we asked our guests to read this Tom Robbins’ piece and then to write their own section. We are going to read a number of them at the ceremony. Getting these from loved ones has been one of my favorite wedding planning activities!

    (On another note, in response to alternatives to the Corinthians love verses, we chose Romans 12: 9 – 18, which is less common, I think!)