Poetry Sunday: A Wedding

We lost another poet last week. James Tate, a much-honored American poet, left us much too soon at the age of 71. He was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, the Tanning Prize, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, among many other recognitions of his unique talent.

His poems were variously described as tragic, comic, ironic, absurdist, hopeful, lonely, haunting, and surreal, and perhaps they were all that. I can't personally claim any special knowledge or insight into his work, but I do like what I've read. I particularly liked this one. It was published in 1991.

A Wedding

She was in terrible pain the whole day,
as she had been for months: a slipped disc,   
and there is nothing more painful. She

herself was a nurse’s aide, also a poet   
just beginning to make a name for her   
nom de plume. As with most things in life,

it happened when she was changing channels   
on her television. The lucky man, on the other   
hand, was smiling for the first time

in his life, and it was fake. He was
an aspiring philosopher of dubious potential,   
very serious, but somehow lacking in

essential depth. He could have been
an adequate undertaker. It was not the first   
time for either of them. It was a civil

service, with no music, few flowers.   
Still, there was a slow and erratic tide
of champagne—corks shot clear into the trees.

And flashcubes, instant photos, some blurred   
and some too revealing, cake slices that aren’t   
what they were meant to be. The bride slept

through much of it, and never did we figure out   
who was on whose team. I think the groom   
meant it in the end when he said, “We never

thought anyone would come.” We were not the first   
to arrive, nor the last to leave. Who knows,   
it may all turn out for the best. And who

really cares about such special days, they   
are not what we live for.


"And who really cares about such special days, they are not what we live for." That's true, I think. The important thing is not what happens on "such special days" but what happens on all those ordinary days that follow. That seems a perfect insight, a perfect summing up of the event that we call A Wedding.


  1. Replies
    1. That's one way of viewing it, I suppose. Another adjective that might apply is ironic. How ironic that such a "special day" passes by in a blur and turns out to be - perhaps - not really special, not really the thing that we remember at all.


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