Two Sonnets on the Prayer Book Wedding Vows

Submitted by Caleb on Fri, 08/17/2018 - 23:31

For Better for Worse

When I was young I plotted out a course,
And all alone my mooring lines let slip;
I turned my helm, for better or for worse,
The way I chose, and sailed my buoyant ship
To seek through tossing seas the golden land.
And any ruin that I might steer upon,
By ruthless rocks or shallow flats of sand,
Would be my loss alone; and ventures won
Were solely mine in glory and in gain.
But now we two are bound, God grant me grace
Never to bring you drowning down in pain,
But help you look with me up to the place
    Where Jesus is, who hears our desperate calls,
    And helps us lift the other if one falls. 


Till Death Us Do Part

If as mere friends our lives had parted ways,
Perhaps years later I might come to hear
That she had died, my friend of bygone days
Had died, and I, perhaps, would lose a tear.
But since God chose our separate threads to braid,
If you should die before me then my part
Will be the deepest pain — a sorrow made
As day by day I gave to you my heart
In hours and hours of talk and work and prayer,
In sickness and in health, while sometimes lost
On winding roads but with you always there.
Yet will love’s parting prove too high a cost?
   I choose to brave its pain, gladly I do,
   As year by year I fall in love with you. 

Author's age when written


The perspective of these is the time of marriage -- meditating on the vows just before or just after you say "I do." I wanted the poems to stand alone, but I thought I should mention in a comment that I am only imagining the thoughts of someone in that place in life. This is not autobiographical. (One of them was written around the time of one of my sister's wedding.)

(Little Essay that doesn't have much to do with these sonnets)

This should be a warning to the scholars who want to build Shakespeare's biography from his sonnets (though it's true that Spenser wrote an autobiography of his courtship in sonnets) -- sometimes poets can imagine things; We know Shakespeare was very imaginative in creating interpersonal drama!

Also, sometimes other experiences of life are framed in terms of romance. This is certainly true in pop music -- to deliver the greatest emotional punch to the widest audience, all manner of more particular thoughts are reframed as romantic songs. One example that comes to mind is Phil Spector's To Know Him is to Love Him. When I read that "To Know Him Was To Love Him." was the inscription on Spector's dad's gravestone (who commited suicide when Phil was 9) I felt sure that, though he had a girl sing it, it wasn't just about romantic love. "Everyone says there will come a time, when I'll walk alongside of him." When I was little I couldn't tell if it was directed toward God or to a boy -- there's a third option. But how many pop songs are there about how you feel about your dad?

To Know Him is to Love Him.

Another great example is the Japanese hit song Ue o Muite Arukō which was apparently written in grief for the 1954 "Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan" and the continued American military presence in Japan. But the lyrics are vague, and seem to be just about the grief of lost love -- a more general experience.

Ue o Muite Arukō

So building an autobiography from someone's lyrics or poems is a risky business.

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

These are really good! I've struggled with writing sonnets before - I like them because all the requirements make writing them kinda like filling in the pieces of a puzzle - so I really admire how clean and well-written these came out.

Also, on your comment - I had to smile. Readers do seem quick to assume poems are autobiographical. I rarely write such poems myself. I like the idea of a dramatic monologue and using poetry as a form of fiction.

You're take on using romance as a means of delivering "the greatest emotional punch" is interesting, and certainly makes a lot of sense. From my perspective though (which may very well not be that of a general audience lol), the romance theme is seriously overused in music, film, etc. nowadays - if an artist wanted to deliver a powerful punch about a non-romantic experience, I might be a lot more emotionally impacted if they described that more specific, non-romantic situation. Not that romance can't have an impact. Perhaps I'm simply more tired of not-really-romance-charading-as-romance so common in pop culture.

Thanks Hannah!

It can feel like the rhyme and metre requirements (solving the puzzle) of a sonnet get in the way of expressing one's thought or feeling naturally and with heart. But on the other hand, if you're meditating on a particular thought, the limiting framework can force you to choose what is essential to that thought and what's extraneous, so that it actually becomes a more potent distillation of one's heart.

I think the best writing is from the heart, and there's a feeling of vulnerability with that. My comment was putting up a little shield, arguing that while one shares heart-felt thoughts he can still reserve control over his life-story. And I do feel like I know Shakespeare, while at the same time I don't know what happened in his life.

The thing about more specific movies/songs is that producers think things like: "Well this one would hit an emotional home-run with all the entomologists, but would leave other demographics cold." Yet, not only can I be moved by a song or movie with very specific situations, and the concerns of a niche group I'm not part of, but I can be moved even by a story about the concerns of a group I oppose, like communist partisans. But what makes it touching is what is common to man, even as particulars differ.

But I also think as people turn away from God our emotional palettes do shrink, and there can be a smaller range of and less poignant shared experiences. And while romantic excitement and familial feeling retain the most emotional power, as people turn from God, man's versions become cruder and cruder.

Thanks for your comment Damaris!
One of the thoughts behind the poem was how strange it is that people talk about love wearing out with time when in my experience the people I have spent the most time with are the most dear to me, thus the lines:
"As day by day I gave to you my heart" "In hours and hours of talk and work and prayer" and, "As year by year I fall in love with you."

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

...since I just got home from one of my best friends’ wedding. I especially loved the line “As day by day I gave to you my heart”

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

Caleb, these poems are deep with beauty... and even awe. Agur the son of Jakeh put it well when among the four things that were too wonderful for him to understand was, "the way of a man with a maid"... while probably broader than marriage in that it could also point to the courtship that precedes it, it still underscores the depth of what marriage is, and the love between a husband and wife. It is something beyond our full understanding, because it is a reflection of God Himself who created and ordained it, and God is infinitely beautiful and endlessly deep.

Reading these poems, and thinking about the love, the commitment, for better or for worse, till death parts... one can feel a stirring in his heart, feelings of both joy and sorrow... joy from the beauty and love that find their source in God, and sorrow at the sin in both the man and his wife that will cause them to fall, to selfishly hurt each other; joy again in the love and forgiveness they have in Christ, and as they look to Him while showing each other the same love and forgiveness; sorrow again in anticipating the enemy of death; joy again in knowing that death is not the end, that it has been conquered, that in Christ there is resurrection, for "even so in Christ shall all be made alive," and then we shall see His glory, of which the beauty of marriage, for all its depth and awe, was only a shadow.

Your comment on poems not necessarily being autobiographical was thought provoking. It's certainly true that trying to construct an author's biography from his creative works could lead to very erroneous conclusions!

Although, for my part... I may tend to write a bit more on the autobiographical side. I have posted at least 15 poems on ApricotPie, and at least 6 of them were in some sense autobiographical (that is, the voice in the poem is my own, speaking directly of my own experience or thoughts), from somewhat silly poems like The Evil Laugh of Arthur and The Sirens of Slumber, to much more heart-felt and personal experiences, such as No Rain and To My Dear Cousin. Someone attempting to construct some of my biography from my works actually might meet with more success (or at least less failure) than if he were attempting it with, say, William Shakespeare. :)

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

You're right to see that in these poems are joy and sorrow blent. I don't think it's just in the poems though, I think the pull back and forth is in the marriage vows themselves that speak of sickness and health, riches and poverty, life and death. But I don't think it's just in the marriage vows I think both joy and sorrow are most deeply present in love itself.

The best sermons are the ones that get you thinking beyond what was in the sermon, and so I take all the thoughts you shared (especially in your second paragraph) as a good sign for these sonnets. The poems themselves don't reach beyond the pain of death, and love being worth it in spite of its pain, but truly, the resurrection is the only real happy ending.

Poems like yours to Libby have a life and value beyond just what it would be printed in an anthology or something. Being a vehicle to share your affection in the present to another human being has a great and real value.

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse