To marry or not to marry

A young friend of mine recently became engaged and it got me thinking about our need for ceremony. It seems we have reverted back to the big white wedding thing costing thousands of dollars, young women changing their names, enjoying the engagement ring/proposal etc. whereas “in my day”…. it was the height of the feminist revolution and these things were a lot less common. Below  are two poems that I really like- not ones that are read at marriages very often but I think they have interesting things to say.

Why Marry at all?   A poem by Marge Piercy

Why mar what has grown up between the cracks
and flourished like a weed
that discovers itself to bear rugged
spikes of magenta blossoms in August,
ironweed sturdy and bold,
a perennial that endures winters to persist?

Why register with the state?
Why enlist in the legions of the respectable?
Why risk the whole apparatus of roles
and rules, of laws and liabilities?
Why license our bed at the foot
like our Datsun truck: will the mileage improve?

Why encumber our love with patriarchal
word stones, with the old armor
of husband and the corset stays
and the chains of wife? Marriage
meant buying a breeding womb
and sole claim to enforced sexual service.

Marriage has built boxes in which women
have burst their hearts sooner
than those walls; boxes of private
slow murder and the fading of the bloom
in the blood; boxes in which secret
bruises appear like toadstools in the morning.

But we cannot invent a language
of new grunts. We start where we find
ourselves, at this time and place.

Which is always the crossing of roads
that began beyond the earth’s curve
but whose destination we can now alter.

This is a public saying to all our friends
that we want to stay together. We want
to share our lives. We mean to pledge
ourselves through times of broken stone
and seasons of rose and ripe plum;
we have found out, we know, we want to continue.


We read the next poem by Margaret Atwood at our quiet little marriage ceremony with nine close friends and family in 1994.


Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

the edge of the receding glacier

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

And finally a much better known regular of the marriage circuit but it still resonates with me. This is an extract from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Love is a temporary madness,
it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.

And when it subsides you have to make a decision.

You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together
that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.

Because this is what love is.

Love is not breathlessness,
it is not excitement,
it is not the promulgation of eternal passion.

That is just being “in love” which any fool can do.

Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away,
and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground,
and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches,
they find that they are one tree and not two.

What do you think of the institution of marriage? What poems or quotations did you read at your wedding?(s). Was it actually the happiest day of your life??

Below is a picture of my late husband and our son at our registry office ceremony. A few days later we told friends and family that we had married and had a fun weekend in some colonial cottages in Kimbell near Lake Tekapo in Central Otago.  The total cost was around 1000 dollars as my best friend arrived with all the lovely food we needed as a wedding present. Sadly, three weeks later my husband died in a climbing accident on Mount Sefton in the Mount Cook National Park. Fortunately we had lots of lovely photos and memories from our ceremonies. FG

Sam and Brett at the registry office May 11, 1994.


3 Replies to “To marry or not to marry”

  1. Sam is the spitting image of his father
    I hope if/when my children marry it will be with style and taste not extravagance but the decisions will probably not be in my hands. I have identified the garden in Hobsonville where I would choose to go IF the owners would permit it.


  2. Hi Sue – completely inspired by your post – but not to remarry even though while not without moments of madness and great joy – marriage can go many ways. I like to say my second marriage took place in the kitchen, the scene of many domestic disasters. Anyway here’s my poem – thanks for the Inspriation

    Marriage in 2 parts
    Marriage (pt 1)
    Say, do you like meditation? What about lasers or tasers? How’s about incredibly powerful beams of electromagnetic energy? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might be a candidate for distract and disable surgery. In this simple procedure you receive a small semiconductor placed just under the skin which is specially tuned to directly receive the latest Distract and Disable sound-letter which you can then hear inside your very own head in pristine surround sound. No speakers required! (mostly from an internet ad or something)

    Marriage (pt 2)
    Make mine a double
    Martini (or) absinthe rebelliously remembered in alternate gyrating effervescence

    At least the sex was unencumbered
    Maniacal abracadabra, rough ravenous, inventive, abraded, galvanising erotic

    Riotous laughter permeating everything
    Magically aerated, rejuvenation reciprocated, garrulously ebullient

    Relatively speaking, we (mostly) got along
    Magnanimously abseiling round ridges including absolutions, gratitude encountered

    In time though
    Miserably acidic, recalcitrant, rebutting, instigating allergies, gibes extended

    All arguments became the last one
    Maelstrom! antsy, recidivist, rancorous, innately aboral, gauntly egotistical

    Give me more, give me more, give me more… or
    Methodical aberrations, reclusive, redacting, indolent assassin generating eclipses

    Making any recovery reticent, imaginary, and generally enigmatic

    Susan Elliot 16 July 2014


    1. A voice in the wilderness! Hurray and thanks for submitting your poem. Come on you shy does, get out of the forest and lay it down here. Lives in the memory that line, “all arguments are the last one”. Shame about not remarrying, I was anticipating a trip to Wellington…


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