How did reading poetry become an essential part of so many American wedding ceremonies—and why is it still so hard to choose a wedding poem of one’s own? […] It was around the early 1960s that some Protestant denominations began loosening the strictures of approved readings and music, according to Paula Treckel, a historian at Allegheny College who has written about the history of American weddings. The usual suspects were first to acquiesce: Unitarians, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians, responding to counterculture couples who wanted to make their wedding ceremonies their own. Suddenly, weddings were taking place in parks, and couples were writing their own vows. As the journalist Rebecca Mead writes in her 2007 book about contemporary weddings, One True Day, the modern idea is that “a wedding ceremony, like a wedding reception, ought to be an expression of the character of the couple who are getting married, rather than an expression of the character of the institution marrying them.”
Despite our best attempts at uniqueness, we have generated a canon (as people do). And so what if the canon shifts over time (as canons do)? If, in 30 or 40 years, Cummings brands an early-21st-century wedding as indelibly as Gibran brands a 1970s wedding, well, so be it. Marriage means stepping into an ancient institution marked by hundreds of temporal particulars—everything from the cut of the bride’s dress to who is legally allowed to marry. We hope the marriage lasts forever, but we have to expect the wedding itself will age. Maybe we’ll all look back on our wedding poetry the same way we’ll look back on our wedding photos: with a fondness for those young, goofy people who had no idea how their tastes would change, or what was to happen to them.