Good Wedding Sonnets?

Ok, I’ve been challenged.  I stated on Twitter that I don’t like Sonnet #116 because it’s become so cliche as “the wedding sonnet.”  I always hope that I’m going to hear a different one, but I never do.  116 is nice enough in it’s own right, I just get the feeling that people think of that as “the” sonnet and never consider using any others.
Personally (and my regular readers know this whole story) I did Sonnet #17, almost entirely because I liked the whole bit about “the age to come would say ‘This poet lies, such hea’enly touches ne’er touched earthly faces’” bit.  (I did not love that being a procreation sonnet, it ends awkwardly with “so you should have a kid”. )
However, I did not have this one done as a reading.  Instead, I whispered it in my new wife’s ear during our first dance.
So on Twitter somebody asked me what a good wedding sonnet would be, and I thought it a good question.  If you’re going to have someone get up and recite a sonnet to everybody on the occasion of a wedding, which one would you pick?  Is 116 the best one?  Or is it only used because is says marriage right there in the first line?

UPDATED September, 2010 I liked this idea so much I wrote a book on the subject of Shakespeare wedding quotes, including an entire section on the sonnets.

9 thoughts on “Good Wedding Sonnets?

  1. How could I resist the bait?
    Many have accused 116 of being mawkish, but other readings have been offered that change the tone by emphasizing the second word (“Let ME not [the way YOU have] . . .”). But pardon the digression.
    I offer two possibilities. There is a certain charm to the neighboring 115 (one must emend “Divert” in line 8 to “Diverts”). The first line is “Those lines that I before have writ do lie.” The sonnet is a 14-line joke. It starts out saying, “I lied when I told you I could not love you more.” The punch line is “My love is always growing, so I love you more and more each day.”
    My second choice is Sonnet 75: “So are you to my thoughts as food to life.” I find it a very sweet and endearing love-poem.

  2. Hands down for me it’s Sonnet 130. Before you dismiss it outright (like I did initially), look at what it’s really saying. It’s saying you aren’t perfect, you aren’t a godness but I don’t want that. I want YOU. My Shakespeare teacher in HS talked to us about how at her wedding it was read and it made her weep because it meant so much.

    “My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
    As any she belied with false compare.”

  3. I was asked by some friends to offer some suggestions for poetry to be read in lieu of Biblical bits at a civil ceremony. I tried to talk them out of 116 – no luck. Even with the assistance of a sonnet specialist friend I couldn’t divert them from that. But I did eventually sell them on two other period pieces: Philip Sidney’s The Bargain – and Rosalind’s speech from AYLI Vii, “there was
    never any thing so sudden but the fight of two rams …”

    It went down a treat!

  4. Good choice, E! Had not thought of that. Of course, it's all about how it is read. Here's how Madelaine does it:

    Remember Madelaine? She set out about 11 months ago to read all 154 sonnets. She has done 133 of them so far, and got stalled about 4 months ago (she is a grad student at MIT and I'll bet she is loaded down with work). Anyway, I think she reads most of them very sensitively, including this one. I think it would sound very nice at a wedding.

  5. I’m truly fascinated by someone who has the guts to do #130 at a wedding reading. You absolutely get to hook them at the end, but you need to have them not laughing at you so hard they miss it. I can just imagine aunts and uncles looking at each other and saying, “Is this a joke?” I think I’d reserve that one for the rehearsal dinner.

    I need time to go look up the suggestions from Carl and Migraine. I like the idea of branching out from the sonnets. They’re nice neat little packages for such an occasion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a nice speech to achieve the same goals.

  6. I tried offering #130. Despite if being a perfect physical description of the bride, neither she nor the groom were willing to go with anything involving the word ‘reeks’.

  7. If my (hypothetical) wedding were to involve a sonnet (which is questionable), I would ABSOLUTELY go with #130. It was my first favorite sonnet.

    My other favorite sonnet is #29, "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes," which is beautiful & I think would work well at a wedding (if I recall correctly a director friend of mine read it at her friend's wedding).

  8. I actually read Sonnet #29 as my "vows" during my wedding. Starts off a little dark – but ends quite beautifully & appropriately for such an occasion.

  9. I quite like 29 almost entirely based around the simply phrase “Hap’ly I think on thee.” Very easy to understand the concept, even if you don’t understand all the words. From there you can work backwards through the dark stuff, and then forwards to the good stuff, and you realize how strong a turning point it really is.

    That idea of “starting out dark but ending well” reminds me of my own wedding, and picking out wedding songs. At the time, Don Henley had a new and popular tune out whose first line was “I had a good life, until you came along.” Of course it goes on to say something to the effect of “I never really knew how good life could be until you showed me blah blah blah” but I couldn’t get over having a wedding dance start out with “I had a good life until you came along.”

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