PostedDecember 04, 2004
Centuries ago, when the first wedding poem was written, perhaps one year later, some still-smitten poet penned the first anniversary poem. At least, we hope the poet didn’t forget to.
On celebrating the milestone of love’s union, though on terms usually less ceremonial than holy matrimony, the anniversary poem always seems to be a more intimate gesture. Sometimes reflective, recollecting the years spent together, the anniversary poem marks the passage of time, and the couple that endured it, for better and for worse.
In the best light, an anniversary poem can offer a glimpse into a relationship’s tinier moments, even illuminating what would otherwise seem mundane. In Molly Peacock’s "Couple Sharing a Peach," she says, "It’s not the first time / we’ve bitten into a peach," but when the peach splits in two:
Two happinesses unfold
from one joy, folioed.
In a hotel room
our moment lies
with its ode inside,
a red tinge,
with a hinge.
But marriage and union aren’t all peaches. To get the rainbow, one must put up with the rain, or, as in Mona Van Duyn’s work, the earthquake. Her poem "Earth Tremors Felt in Missouri" reaffirms that these rocky moments aren’t unusual or unhealthy:
The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.
But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.
The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.
As years go by and living takes its toll, the challenges of couplehood never cease. Though despite "the woe that is in marriage," as Robert Lowell once wrote, when the rain is heavy, as in Theodore Roethke’s "The Storm," a union may be strengthened in that shared need to survive:
We lie closer on the gritty pillow,
Breathing heavily, hoping--
For the great last leap of the wave over the breakwater,
The flat boom on the beach of the towering sea-swell,
The sudden shudder as the jutting sea-cliff collapses,
And the hurricane drives the dead straw into the living pine-tree.
Some wonderful poems that commemorate anniversaries, or simply celebrate lasting unions, include: