A Literary Wedding, or, “Earth’s the right place for love: / I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

our rings

Our wedding rings

We were married three years ago this week, back in the olden days before Pinterest provided endless helpful suggestions regarding how to personalize your wedding with monograms and mason jars.

Now, I love a mason jar as much as the next gal, but our last name’s initial looks a heckuva lot like a circle, so I didn’t (and don’t) see much point in monogramming anything. I think it would have confused people. (“Which table are you sitting at?” “Table 0.” “Oh, I thought we were at table O.” “Oh dear.”) Personalizing one’s wedding ought to mean something more than splashing one’s initials all over it in in perfect wildflower hues, right?

Our wedding would never make the pages of Martha Stewart Weddings. We didn’t meticulously handcraft garlands of paper cranes from the pages of vintage books. We didn’t do favors, rice, confetti, a “real” wedding cake (we went with the Heart of Darkness chocolate torte, with mango coulis), or a “normal” ceremony.

What we did do was try very hard to make the wedding our own, an event that expressed not only who we are as a couple but where we came from — the people and words and music that shaped our lives.

The program included the line from “Birches” I’ve used in this post’s title, and Juliet’s immortal lines, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea / My love as deep. The more I give to thee / The more I have, for both are infinite.” The lettering on the front of the program used a font based on Jane Austen’s handwriting; on the last page we reprinted Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 in memory of absent friends.

The processional was “Building the Barn” from Witness, because, well, just watch that part of the movie (bonus: Viggo Mortenson cameo!). And the recessional was “Everyone” by Van Morrison because, well, watch the end of The Royal Tenenbaums. But only if you’ve seen the beginning and the middle.

While guests waited they had the option of tinkering with a crossword we made about us, our friends, and families, or looking out over a little river and falls, or browsing in the bookstore.

Yes, we were married at a bookstore. Well, technically, we were married on a deck that’s part of a restaurant that’s located in an old mill that’s been converted into a used bookstore in a town called, of all things, Montague. But I just tell everyone that we were married at a bookstore. It’s easier that way.

[It’s lovely to be able to return to a place that holds such beautiful memories for us; we try to go back at least once a year. I’ll post pictures from our latest visit tomorrow.  I bet you’ll want to go there too.]

Our ceremony was comprised of the usual wedding bits, retooled to suit our beliefs and preferred wording, and literary readings. Each of us asked a parent, a sibling, a friend, and an aunt or uncle to read during the ceremony, in groups of two.

Which readings, you ask?

  • “In Lands I Never Saw,” by Emily Dickinson
  • “The Owl and the Pussycat,” by Edward Lear
  • Most Like an Arch This Marriage,” by John Ciardi
  • Sonnet 116, by William Shakespeare
  • “The Master Speed,” by Robert Frost
  • a selection from the Song of Songs
  • a selection from Emma, by Jane Austen
  • a selection from The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

I can still hear each one of these people reading, people we love who shared these words that mean so much to us. Because a marriage ceremony is an act of speaking something into being, and it’s important to get the words right.


So, since today is Tuesday, and therefore a poetry day around these parts, I thought today I’d highlight a poem that wasn’t read at our wedding.

You read that right. We both love Robert Frost’s “Birches” — so much so that my husband’s wedding ring is etched to look like birch bark — but it is long, and not really related to marriage, so we chose a different Frost poem for our set of readings. Now, though, after three years and one child together, this poem has taken on even more significance to us. Sometimes I imagine my son as the boy in the poem, confident though solitary. Sometimes I turn to the poem when things get hard, as they are wont to do, when

I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.

But above all, we love the poem for its abiding love for the beauty and promise of this world and its often-anonymous inhabitants. After all, “one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

Three years later, at the bookmill.

Three years later, at the Bookmill.

Did you incorporate readings into your wedding ceremony? How did you choose your readings?

15 thoughts on “A Literary Wedding, or, “Earth’s the right place for love: / I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”

    • We pulled a bit from the very last paragraph, leaving out Mrs. Elton’s specific objections to Emma and Mr. Knightley’s wedding:

      “The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade [. . .] But in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.”

      In retrospect, it seems pretty cocky to choose a reading about “perfect happiness” in marriage, given the current divorce rate, but then again, there’s no better time to optimistic than on the wedding day, I suppose.

  1. Well it sounds like your wedding was incredible, and married at a bookstore??? That would actually be my dream. I think my partner is going to be annoyed that I found this post! 🙂

    • It was small but sweet — a very, very happy day for both of us. We hadn’t planned to have the wedding at a bookstore (but we probably would have thought about a library), but we happened upon the Bookmill the November before we got engaged. We were hooked after two minutes.

  2. Beautiful post, Carolyn. Thank you for sharing your memories and joy! That book store is worthy of a literary pilgrimage, I’d say. 🙂 We did our own thing with much of our wedding, as well, though we stuck with the traditional readings for Mass. But my favorite thing was the Playmobile cake topper we had — we wrote to Playmobile asking if we could order a bride and groom and they made one custom and sent it to us as a wedding gift! Hah! We were dirt poor and did so much “by hand” — very un-Martha-y, however. It isn’t about the money spent, it’s about what you do together to make it oh so personal, as your post so perfectly points out.

    Happy Anniversary!

    • Thank you! It’s such a great place — even the pictures I’ll post tomorrow don’t do it justice. Through the whole store you can hear the rushing of the falls outside, and the owners of the store and the restaurant and the cafe (The Lady Killigrew; the restaurant is The Night Kitchen, like the Maurice Sendak book) are some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.

      Which readings did you choose for your wedding? I’ll be reading at my brother’s wedding this fall, but I don’t think they’ve selected readings yet.

      • Girl, it was 20 years ago! I don’t remember….I’d have to dig out my program (hand-lettered and designed by yours truly). If I have time I’ll do that later today and post it for you — it’d be fun to look at it again anyway. 🙂

        Where is your brother getting married?

        Can’t wait to see your pics tomorrow!

      • You’re a dear, but don’t go using your precious time just to satisfy my curiosity!

        My brother’s getting married in Ohio, which is where most of my family lives.

  3. A literary wedding – I love it! And I am very much a proponent of creating a ceremony that fits the individual couple. We had a very small ceremony by the ocean, and it was very very simple. Maybe for my birthday I will ask my husband to throw me a party at a bookstore (what few that are left) 😉

    Happy anniversary!

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