Today’s word—via Anu Garg’s indefatigable word-a-day list—is epithalamion. Definition: “a poem or song in honor of a bride and bridegroom.” Which is amusing, becuase we’ve been searching and browsing such poems for weeks now and had no idea English had a word for them. Good old English, ceaselessly finding new ways to trip up middle school spelling bee-ers.
We finally settled on our final list of poems and passages a few days ago, wrapping up both the last details of the ceremony and the programs, some of the last major tasks before the wedding weekend. Reading poetry or prose is not necessarily a customary part of the Jewish wedding ritual, but as we like to do with all our customs, we’re modernizing it. What is customary is the Sheva Brachot, or seven blessings. In all Jewish weddings they’re read in Hebrew; in many they’re translated literally into English. We’ve decided to skip that last part and instead read some favorite poems and passages that touch on similar themes.
When I first to the library hunting for ideas, Sarah pointed me toward a few particular authors: Rilke, Berry and Auden. All three were great, but immediately I found Berry’s words to resonate. He touches on a lot of themes that I find myself believing in more and more as I get older—and his words on marriage and love seemed to hit just the right tone. Fortunately, though not surprisingly, Sarah agreed, and the result is that we will now quote Berry three times out of six in our ceremony.
I’ve never been much for poetry. I’ve never owned a book of poems that wasn’t written by Shel Silverstein. I consistantly fail when the Final Jeopardy category mentions poets. But in reading these poems (and prose) at a time when we’re trying to construct the perfect language to describe our love and commitment for each other, something clicked, and I realized that they could say the things I was thinking much better than I could. Which is one of the points of reading poetry, I realize now. To the long list of things in which this wedding planning has changed me, we can now add another: he can appreciate a good poem.
What are these six readings? I won’t say quite yet; they should be a surprise to all our guests. However, there was one poem that didn’t make it to the final round, one that we both loved but just missed the cut. I think I may laminate it and paste it up in the office. It’s “Happiness,” by Carl Sandburg:
I ASKED the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with their women and children and a keg of beer and an accordion.