Photo by Andrew Morrell Photography

A good friend of mine has offered me the opportunity to present a reading at her wedding. She’s also given me the option of choosing the reading myself. I’d love to be able to come to her with some ideas, but I need some help!

What would you recommend I read at a secular wedding ceremony?

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31 thoughts on “What Would You Read at a Secular Wedding?”

Beckie · December 13, 2011 at 11:16 am

I love this. Found it on an internet search.

LOVE By Roy Croft
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.

I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.

I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.

I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.

I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good,
And more than any fate
To make me happy.

You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.

    Godless Girl · December 13, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I like that poem too! It’s simple, yet tender.

Sara · December 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Can’t go wrong with the Apache wedding prayer.

Mark O'Leary · December 13, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Phillippians 4:8

Seriously. Hitch often cites it as one of his favorite verses. I quote the KJV. You can update the language to something gender neutral, but beyond that, it’s hard to argue with:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

Matt · December 13, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Shakespeare’s “wedding sonnet”. I actually read this at a secular wedding, and it went over quite well.

Jerry Wells · December 13, 2011 at 6:58 pm

The Impressive Clergyman’s (Peter Cook) speech in Princess Bride if it’s a couple with humor. Or Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot to put the whole thing in perspective.

e.e. cummings’ poem [love is more thicker than forget] might work, too.

Adam Lee · December 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm

My wife and I had a member of our wedding party read a selection from Goodridge v. Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

Salman Latif · December 13, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I don’t know the norms of wedding-speeches at West, being a remote observer at best. And so I can only make a feeble attempt at suggesting the text for the speech. But I think Russell’s ‘Conquest of Happiness’ will be apt read, being both aligned to your stance as being an atheist (and thus posing no moral qualms) and containing such portions which really can impart some valid positive points, to the audience and the new couple without being too drab.

    Travis · May 20, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    I like that.

Jim Jones · December 13, 2011 at 8:12 pm

You could browse through some Khalil Gibran. Something might strike your fancy there.

    Mark O'Leary · December 14, 2011 at 9:30 am

    You could, but please don’t.

      Jim Jones · December 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      It beats most crappy Christian readings.

        Mark O'Leary · December 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm

        It’s right there with them. Gibran was a mutton head and a terrible poet. The Rod McKuen of his generation. Unworthy of anyone over the age of reason.

          Jim Jones · December 15, 2011 at 8:37 am

          Would you prefer the sort of doggerel written by TV anchors?

            Mark O'Leary · December 15, 2011 at 9:21 am

            At a secular wedding I would prefer something (a) secular and (b) that exhibits real writing talent. Gibran fails on both counts.

deb from ps bohemian · December 13, 2011 at 8:17 pm

my favorite poem of all time, by e.e. cummings:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Holly · December 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm

A George Eliot poem specifically about marriage:

“What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life – to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspeakable memories.”

    Jerry Wells · December 14, 2011 at 7:33 am

    That’s a brilliant passage! I did some poking around on wiki and found that this quote is from _Adam Bede_, Eliot’s first novel.

Lizzy · December 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm

The old roommate had Whitman (among many other things) read at his wedding, that was stellar.

Jonathan wants someone to read “The Flea” by Donne, in the event. Look it up for the lulz.

That’s not really the answer to your question. Poetry? Shakespeare’s kind of lame for weddings, unless there’s a reason for the verse. He doesn’t seem to have been such a fan himself.

Tell me what you decide next week when you get heeerrreee! Yayyyy!

Godless Girl · December 16, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Wow, I am just loving all of these ideas, you guys! Thank you! This is pushing me into some truly enjoyable and inspirational reading even just on my own.

Gern Blandston · December 19, 2011 at 11:27 pm

You could do what my wife and I did, and I swear I am not making this up:

A miracle! here’s our own hands against our hearts.
Come, I will have thee; but, by this light, I take
thee for pity.

I would not deny you; but, by this good day, I yield
upon great persuasion; and partly to save your life,
for I was told you were in a consumption.

notjarvis · December 21, 2011 at 4:28 am

We had this one I think (it was years ago so my memory is hazy)

I’ll be there my darling, through thick and through thin
When your mind’s in a mess and your head’s in a spin
When your plane’s been delayed, and you’ve missed the last train.
When life is just threatening to drive you insane
When your thrilling whodunit has lost its last page
When somebody tells you, you’re looking your age
When your coffee’s too cool, and your wine is too warm
When the forecast said “Fine”, but you’re out in a storm
When your quick break hotel, turns into a slum
And your holiday photos show only your thumb
When you park for five minutes in a resident’s bay
And return to discover you’ve been towed away
When the jeans that you bought in hope or in haste
Just stick on your hips and don’t reach round your waist
When the food you most like brings you out in red rashes
When as soon as you boot up the bloody thing crashes
So my darling, my sweetheart, my dear…
When you break a rule, when you act the fool
When you’ve got the flu, when you’re in a stew
When you’re last in the queue, don’t feel blue
’cause I’m telling you, I’ll be there

Harold · January 4, 2012 at 11:50 pm

You have some good suggestions for poetry, so I will offer a suggestion based on the secular portion of one of my friends’ weddings. You could use the lyrics from a song, either one that simply sounds right or one that has special meaning to the couple. If it fits their plans for the ceremony, you could even sing part of it.

Whinestein · January 5, 2012 at 7:19 am

Hearts (as a seat of love), souls, spirits…sounds like religious belief beliefs to me.

What truths do you know of love?
I know that I love someone when their happiness is as important to me as my own.
I know that love is nothing that can be transferred from one person to another; that we cannot save up love or bank it for a rainy day (by making personal sacrifices usually); what love is happens when another person inspires self-love in you and you inspire them to love themselves.
Really, that’s how it works.

Add what you know to be true, not poetic or philosophical gobbledygook.

Neil · January 6, 2012 at 7:28 pm

The below extract from Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot (acquired from

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

edu · January 12, 2012 at 9:55 pm

It is probably late now… but being an atheist myself, being married to a catholic woman, it is tough and demands quite a lot of bible study….apart from Hitchens quote above I like another part from the bible…it is the Saint Paul Letter #1…when he says about love…(everything else is hypocrisy!!)



1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

4 Love is patient,
love is kind and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant,
5 does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails;

but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

PS: By the way, i got married in the church(the priest didn’t know i am an atheist)…and the only thing i asked my wife to accept going forward with the theater was that this was the only thing I wanted him to read from the bible!

    Pego · December 18, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    This text was written by a man for men. Women often have to be taught that their love should not “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things,” and other self-worth understandings at risk with this position. That proves to be a recipe for abuse and control, usually for women but sometimes for men, too. Love doesn’t mean that you tolerate anything dished out, and should live within it. Balance and parity.

EdwinSligh · February 12, 2013 at 10:36 am

Not all guests who are asked to give wedding speeches are seasoned writers or orators. When asked to participate on any level, some people blanch and become riddled with anxiety. because they are not comfortable with their writing or their presentation skills. This is when the smart person will begin searching for sample speeches others have used with success.

RobertFreitas · April 12, 2013 at 8:42 am

why man!! very hardly earned comments they were!!
Anyway thanks for the new comment system!!

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