Readings and poems for civil ceremonies

Meaningful extracts and verses to suit your wedding style and civil ceremony

Your choice of readings will help set the mood for your big day, so choose something that reflects your own feelings or has a special significance to the two of you. If you want to print the words of any readings or songs in your order of service, ask your registrar whether you need copyright clearance. This can usually be arranged for a small fee.

It’s also worth thinking carefully about who you want to read at your wedding. Ask someone who is able to speak clearly and confidently in public (there’s no point you spending hours choosing a favourite poem if it’s inaudible on the day!). If they’re planning to learn the piece off by heart, it’s still worth them having a printed copy in front of them – just in case. And ask your venue in advance whether the reader will have a microphone to speak into – if not, they’ll want to practice projecting their voice so that the guests at the back can still hear.

If you haven’t chosen your reading/s yet, check out the extracts below for inspiration. Most of them contain no religious references so they should be suitable for a civil ceremony – but always check with your registrar. In some cases, you may also be able to include one of these pieces at a religious ceremony (though you may need to have a religious reading as well). Speak to your priest or vicar for more advice.

A Sonnet of Sonnets

I lov'd you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drown'd the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seem'd to wax more strong;
I lov'd and guess'd at you, you construed me--
And lov'd me for what might or might not be
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not "mine" or "thine;" 
With separate "I" and "thou" free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of "thine that is not mine;"
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.
Christina Rossetti


Masons, when they start upon a building, Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won't slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job's done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seems to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
Seamus Heaney

I would live in your love

I would live in your love as the sea-grasses live in the sea,
Borne up by each wave as it passes, drawn down by each wave that recedes;
I would empty my soul of the dreams that have gathered in me,
I would beat with your heart as it beats, I would follow your soul as it leads.
Sara Teasdale


For marriage, love and love alone’s the argument.
Sweet ceremony, then hand in hand we go 
Taking to our changed, still dangerous days, our complement. 
We think we know ourselves, but all we know
Is: love surprises us. It’s like when sunlight flings 
A sudden shaft that lights up glamorous the rain 
Across a Glasgow street – or when Botanic Spring’s 
First crisp, dry breath turns February air champagne.
Delight’s infectious – your friends 
Put on, with glad rag finery today, your joy, 
Renew in themselves the right true ends
They won’t let old griefs, old lives, destroy. 
When at our lover’s feet our opened selves we’ve laid 
We find ourselves, and all the world, remade.
Liz Lochhead 

The Beauty of Love

The question is asked: “Is there anything more beautiful in life than a young couple clasping hands and pure hearts in the path of marriage? Can there be anything more beautiful than young love?” And the answer is given: “Yes, there is a more beautiful thing.

"It is the spectacle of an old man and an old woman finishing their journey together on that path. Their hands are gnarled but still clasped; their faces are seamed but still radiant; their hearts are physically bowed and tired but still strong with love and devotion. Yes, there is a more beautiful thing than young love. Old love.” 

You can give without loving

You can give without loving but you can never love without giving. The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing small acts of kindness. We pardon to the extent that we love. Love is knowing that even when you are alone, you will never be truly alone again. And great happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved. Loved for ourselves. And even loved in spite of ourselves.
Victor Hugo, from Les Miserables

To my bride

To my bride, I give you my heart
Sharing love each day, from the very start.
To my bride, I give you my kiss
Filling each day with joy and bliss.
To my bride I give you my being
To love, to play, to work and to sing
To my bride I give you my mind
Learning each day to be more kind.
To my bride I give you my soul
Growing together to be more whole.
Rejoicing each day that you are my wife.
Steven Reiser

Our great adventure

We are today still dizzy with the astonishment of love.
We are surrounded by affection – by smiles and kindliness,
by flowers and music and gifts and celebration.
Yet they enclose a silence
where we are close with one another.
My eyes see only you.
I hear nothing but the words we speak to one another
This is the day we start our life together.
This is our new beginning 
Pamela Dugdale

Married love

You and I
Have so much love
That it burns like a fire
In which we bake a lump of clay
Moulded into a figure of you
And a figure of me
Then we take both of them
And break them into pieces
And mix the pieces with water
And mould again a figure of you
And a figure of me
I am in your clay
You are in my clay
In life we share a single quilt
In death we will share one coffin
Kuan Tao-Sheng 

True Love

True love is a sacred flame
That burns eternally
And none can dim its special glow
Or change its destiny
True love speaks in tender tones
And hears with gentle ear
True love gives with open heart
And true love conquers fear
True love makes no harsh demands
It neither rules nor binds
And true love holds with gentle hands
The heart that it entwines
Author unknown

These I can promise

I cannot promise you a lifetime of sunshine
I cannot promise riches, wealth or gold
I cannot promise you an easy pathway
That leads away from change or growing old
But I can promise all my heart's devotion
A smile to chase away your tears of sorrow
A love that's ever true and ever growing
A hand to hold in yours through each tomorrow.

On Your Wedding Day

Today is a day you will always remember
The greatest in anyone's life
You'll start off the day just two people in love
And end it as husband and wife.
It's a brand new beginning, the start of a journey
With moments to cherish and treasure
And although they'll be times when you both disagree
These will surely be outweighed by pleasure
You'll have heard many words of advice in the past
When the secrets of marriage were spoken
But you know that the answers lie hidden inside
Where the bond of true love lies unbroken
So live happy forever as lovers and friends
It's the dawn of a new life for you
As you stand there together with love in your eyes
From the moment you whisper ‘I do'
And with luck all your hopes and your dreams can be real
May success find its way to your hearts
Tomorrow can bring you the greatest of joys
But today is the day it all starts

Doves Poem

Two doves meeting in the sky
Two loves hand in hand, eye to eye
Two parts of a loving whole
Two hearts and a single soul
Two stars shining big and bright
Two fires bringing warmth and light
Two songs played in perfect tune
Two flowers growing into bloom
Two doves gliding in the air
Two loves free without a care
Two parts of a loving whole
Two hearts and a single soul
Two dreams found before too late
Two lives together bound by fate
Two people cling to one another
Two people in love with each other
Two doves, can you see them soar?
Two loves – who could ask for more?
Two parts of a loving whole
Two hearts and a single soul
Author unknown

A Good Wedding Cake

4lb of love
1/2lb of sweet temper
1lb of butter of youth
1lb of blindness of faults
1lb of pounded wit
1lb of good humour
2lbs of sweet argument
1 pint of rippling laughter
1 wine glass of common sense
A dash of modesty
Put the love, good looks and a sweet temper into a well-furnished house. Beat the butter of youth into a cream and mix well together with the blindness of faults. Stir the pounded wit and good humour into the sweet argument, then add the rippling laughter and common sense. Work the whole together until everything is well mixed and bake gently for ever.
Author unknown 


A marriage is a promise
That two hearts gladly make
A promise to be tender
To help, to give and take
A marriage is a promise
To be kind and understanding
To be thoughtful and considerate
Fair and undemanding
A marriage is a promise
To share one life together
A love-filled promise meant to be
Kept lovingly forever

The Art of Marriage

A good marriage must be created,
In marriage, the little things are the big things. It is never being too old to hold hands. It is remembering to say “I love you” at least once a day. It is never going to sleep angry.
It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives.
It is standing together and facing the world.
It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.
It is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow.
It is a common search for the good and the beautiful.
It is not only marrying the right person –
It is being the right partner.

If Thou Must Love Me

If thou must love me, let it be for naught
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
“I love her for her smile...her look...
her way of speaking gently – for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine and certes bought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day.”
For these things in themselves, beloved, may be changed,
or changed for thee – and love so wrought may be unwrought so.
Elizabeth Barrett BrowningDoubt that the stars are fire
Doubt that the sun doth move
Doubt truth to be a liar
But never doubt I love thee
William Shakespeare from Hamlet

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediment. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds.
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is not shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Loves not time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never write nor no man ever loved.
William Shakespeare 

The Bargain

My true love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one for another given:
I hold his dear and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his.
His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own.
I cherish his because in me it bides:
My true love hath my heart, and I have his
Sir Philip Sidney

Love and Friendship

Love is like the wild rose-briar
Friendship like the holly tree
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?
Then, scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck with thee the holly's sheen,
Then when December blights thy brow
He still may leave thy garland green.
Emily Bronte


From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it’s like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it’s like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it’s like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions…
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins, it’s like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it’s like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.


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19/07/2016 at 22:30

I was just scrolling through and "True Love" is one of my poems its actually part of a longer one u wrote


21/09/2015 at 23:05

EDITED: Today is a day you will always remember; The start of a new beautiful life; It began with you being just two people in love; It ended as you Husband and Wife. It’s not a brand new beginning but a part of a journey; Full of moments to relish and treasure; Other times may be harder but then look back on this day; When you promised to be theirs forever. You'll have heard words of advice, from the old and the keen; Whispering secrets of marriage and life; But you will know the answers are more simple than this; From what you share as now Husband and Wife. So live happy forever as lovers and friends; With luck, all of your hopes and your dreams will come true; Tomorrow awaits - how exciting is that! And it all started from a loving 'I do'. So friends… wish them good luck and cheer them along Given our help and support they’ll go far, Now it’s official, two oft the gang are together, forever And soon we’ll be done, so we can get smashed at the bar…


21/09/2015 at 23:03

I edited one if you want to borrow it... i took out the goop... i'll see if they'll let me post it!


27/10/2014 at 12:44

Yes Jamie Adams - please do share any ideas you have x


24/10/2014 at 19:35

I am exactly the same, we are not the public gushing types and find the whole thing a bit cringe. Lovely when it's someone else but not really us. I'm struggling to find anything suitable- I'd be interested to know your ideas?

Jamie Adams

24/10/2014 at 18:12

Im really conflicted at the moment, I love the readings dont get me wrong but am I the only bride that feels some of them are OTT mushy to read during the ceremony?
My guests know me and my partner love each other, I dont want to rub it in their faces. I have started looking for alternative readings about our partnership together rather than undying love but am I making a mistake? Really don't know what to do :S


24/10/2014 at 08:39

Thanks for all your ideas, girls. I'll add them to the list as they are beautiful! I'm a big fan of Footprints myself, but I know that's quite old-school! Xx


23/10/2014 at 21:22

we are having "a vow" by wendy cope. I love it. 

I cannot promise never to be angry;
I cannot promise always to be kind.
You know what you are taking on, my darling –
It's only at the start that love is blind.
And yet I'm still the one you want to be with
And you're the one for me – of that I'm sure. 
You are my closest friend, my favorite person,
The lover and the home I've waited for. 
I cannot promise that I will deserve you
From this day on. I hope to pass that test.
I love you and I want to make you happy.
I promise I will do my very best.


23/10/2014 at 21:18

Olivia that poem is so beautiful, thank you for posting it

Olivia Thomson

23/10/2014 at 16:49

One of my favourite readings for a wedding is WB Yeats' 'Had I the heavens' - simple, and a bit different, but very sweet:

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


26/09/2012 at 17:29

This is the second time I've seen Bronte's "Love and Friendship" on a wedding reading webpage - it's actually saying friendship lasts longer than love...possibly true, but not so suitable for a wedding!

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