I read this poem at my brother’s wedding: sonnet 17, by Pablo Neruda. I chose it because it was strange and vivid (so would catch everyone’s attention) and because it spoke plainly and openly of love (and so was appropriate for a wedding ceremony). My brother gave me the option of reading a poem of my own, but I didn’t want the guests to be wondering, “Is it any good?” I thought, in wedding situations, go canonical.
Click to hear me recite the poem (sitting at my desk in Philadelphia, I’m afraid, not during the actual wedding).
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
Not everyone was immediately impressed by my choice. I showed the poem to my mum beforehand, and she commented, “It’s a bit dark, isn’t it?” I asked her what kind of poem she would like.
She said, “I like the one by Shelley that goes:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,
Thou art so lovely no words can tell.”
I said, “Mum, you’ve just combined two poems. Those lines don’t go together. And the first one’s by Shakespeare.”
“Who’s the second one by? Is that Shelley?”
“I don’t know. Let’s stick with Neruda.”
My mum has since googled her second line, and has not been able to find it.