Posted by Hannah Royal | Posted in Entertainment Guide | Posted on 05-01-2012
This poem takes us to the heart of marriage. A bride and groom stand together on the very brink of a new life. No matter our background, this image of the happy couple evokes a sense of eternal promise.
The poem begins with the soft repetition of the word “now,” taking us to the very moment, the very second that the speaker’s marriage begins. There is a sense of wonder in his voice, as if he cannot believe what has happened. In the “rite,” the spontaneous joy of love has become serious and passion sacred. The “spell” of being enchanted with each other has merged with the magic of the ceremony itself.
Man and woman have come together to be “made one.” There is a psychological reality to this, as couples bond and become united, adopting the same inclinations and interests. Notice how there is no “I” or “you” in the poem—only “we” and “us.”
Winthrop assumes that marriage is the beginning of making a home together; celebrating the excitement we all recognize of moving in with our partner, choosing the furnishings, painting the walls, weeding the garden, cooking the meals—and knowing “this is ours.”
Home is a place of rest and roaming. For me, this brings to mind a marvelous insight from G. K. Chesterton, who disputed the notion that the home was some kind of cage. He pointed out that it is, in fact, the only place where we enjoy complete freedom. There is no one to stop us from painting the walls purple and green, dancing in the garden, and having tea on the roof. Home is the place where we can make our own rules—and break them.
The first stanza ends with a question, after which we should pause. Then the simple word “together” is given the quiet, calm, dignity it deserves. It becomes a refrain at the end of every verse, gently reminding us of the central miracle of human connection.
In the second stanza, the couple look to the future. The speaker affirms that now their joys will increase and their sorrows will lessen. Whether life is “fair or foul,” the couple will not be moved. The words echo the marriage vow to protect one’s spouse, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”
In the third stanza, the domestic tranquility of the opening stanzas seems threatened by the shadow of death. But confronted by the glory of love, his deadly dart is nothing more than a feather. Has it become an angel’s wing?
Winthrop grants a marriage a metaphysical dimension beyond the mundane. This reminds me of The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence, in which the farmer Tom Brangwen remarks, “So I say, an Angel is the soul of man and woman in one: they rise united at the Judgment Day, as one Angel …” While this may not be a literal truth, it is an emotional truth about the transcendent experience of two people willing to pledge themselves to each other. The poem’s final image of the linking hands has a touching pathos; the final “together” a resolute strength.
Does the poem strike us as dated? I think it is remarkably modern in focusing on the romantic relationship at the heart of marriage. There is no talk of the couple’s wider families, no mention of planning to have children, no specific religious context— and it could just as easily be spoken by a woman as much as a man. It has a universal quality that makes it an ideal poem to recite and share at a wedding.
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