If you or your fiancé is in the military, you may want to honor that commitment by including a verse of patriotic poetry or prose in your ceremony. This is a happy occasion, so choose something that is optimistic and uplifting.
Here are some favorites. The authors range from presidents to pencil-pushers, but they are all very moving.
My land is where the kind folks are,
And where the friends are true,
Where comrades brave will travel far
Some kindly deed to do.
My land is where the smiles are bright
And where the speech is sweet,
And where men cling to what is right
Regardless of defeat.
My land is where the starry flag
Gleams brightly in the sun;
The land of rugged mountain crag,
The land where rivers run,
Where cheeks are tanned and hearts are bold
And women fair to see,
And all is not a strife for gold —
That land is home to me.
My land is where the children play,
And where the roses bloom,
And where to break the peaceful day
No flaming cannons boom.
My land's the land of honest toil,
Of laughter, dance and song,
Where harvests crown the fertile soil
And thoughtful are the strong.
My land's the land of many creeds
And tolerance for all
It is the land of splendid deeds
Where men are seldom small.
And though the world should bid me roam,
Its distant scenes to see,
My land would keep my heart at home
And there I'd always be.
— Edgar Guest
Edgar Albert Guest (1881–1955) was born in Britain and emigrated to Michigan with his family ten years later. After his father died, Guest dropped out of school and took a full-time job at the Detroit Free Press. Guest was a prolific poet, and in 1952 he was named Michigan's poet laureate, the only individual ever to hold the honor.
What makes a nation's pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?
It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.
Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.
And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.
Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.
Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly …
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Writer, educator, abolitionist, and former Unitarian minister Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82) was a man who took the “till death do us part” line of his wedding vows very seriously. He was so affected by the death of his beloved young first wife, Ellen, that he visited her grave daily and eventually named his eldest daughter by his second wife after her.
Hail! Columbia, happy land!
Hail! ye heroes, heaven-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone,
Enjoyed the peace your valor won;
Let independence be your boast,
Ever mindful what it cost,
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.
Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.
Immortal patriots, rise once more!
Defend your rights, defend your shore;
Let no rude foe with impious hand,
Invade the shrine where sacred lies
Of toil and blood the well-earned prize;
While offering peace, sincere and just,
In heaven we place a manly trust,
That truth and justice will prevail,
And every scheme of bondage fail.
Sound, sound the trump of fame!
Let Washington's great name
Ring through the world with load applause!
Let every clime to freedom dear
Listen with a joyful ear;
With equal skill, with steady power,
He governs in the fearful hour
Of horrid war, or guides with ease
The happier time of honest peace.
Behold the chief, who now commands,
Once more to serve his country stands,
The rock on which the storm will beat!
But armed in virtue, firm and true,
His hopes are fixed on heaven and you.
When hope was sinking in dismay,
When gloom obscured Columbia's day,
His steady mind, from changes free,
Resolved on death or liberty.
— Joseph Hopkinson
Joseph Hopkinson (1770–1842) was a son of Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The younger Hopkinson was an attorney who successfully defended Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in his impeachment trial and served two terms in the House of Representatives.
One country, brethren! We must rise or fall
With the Supreme Republic. We must be
The makers of her immortality;
Her freedom, fame,
Her glory or her shame —
Liegemen to God and fathers of the free!
After all —
Hark! from the heights the clear, strong, clarion call
And the command imperious: “Stand forth,
Sons of the South and brothers of the North!
Stand forth and be
As one soil and sea —
Your country's honor more than empire's worth!”
'Tis Freedom wears the loveliest coronal;
Her brow is to the morning; in the sod
She breathes the breath of patriots; every clod
Answers her call
And rises like a wall
Against the foes of liberty and God!
— Frank L. Stanton
Frank L. Stanton (1857–1927) was the poet laureate in Georgia from 1925 to 1927 and wrote popular poems for the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. He frequently used dialects and characters that idealized the antebellum south.
Not alone for mighty empire,
Stretching far o'er land and sea;
Not alone for bounteous harvests,
Lift we up our hearts to Thee.
Standing in the living present,
Memory and hope between,
Lord, we would with deep thanksgiving
Praise Thee most for things unseen.
Not for battleship and fortress,
Not for conquests of the sword
But for conquests of the spirit
Give we thanks to Thee, O Lord;
For the priceless gift of freedom,
For the home, the church, the school;
For the open door to manhood
In a land the people rule.
For the armies of the faithful,
Souls that passed and left no name;
For the glory that illumines
Patriot lives of deathless fame;
For our prophets and apostles,
Loyal to the living Word;
For all heroes of the Spirit
Give we thanks to Thee, O Lord.
God of justice, save the people
From the clash of race and creed,
From the strife of class and faction;
Make our nation free indeed.
Keep her faith in simple manhood
Strong as when her life began,
Till it finds its full fruition
In the brotherhood of man.
— William P. Merrill
William Pierce Merrill (1867–1954) was a Presbyterian pastor who wrote poems and hymns. “Not Alone for Mighty Empire” is actually a hymn Merrill wrote in 1911 set to music by the eighteenth-century Austrian composer Franz Josef Haydn. It also works nicely by itself as a poem.
There is a tide in the affairs of men, a nick of
time. We perceive it now before us. To hesitate
is to consent to our own slavery.
That noble instrument upon your table,
that insures immortality to its author, should
be subscribed this very morning by every pen
in this house. He that will not respond to its
accents, and strain every nerve to carry into
effect its provisions, is unworthy of the name
of free man.
For my own part, of property, I have some;
of reputation, more. That reputation is
staked, that property is pledged on the issue
of this contest; and although these grey hairs
must soon descend into the sepulcher, I
would infinitely rather that they descend
thither by the hand of the executioner than
desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my
— John Witherspoon
Scotsman John Witherspoon (1723–94) was a Presbyterian pastor who moved his family to New Jersey to lead what became Princeton University. Witherspoon served in the Continental Congress and was an enthusiastic signer of the Declaration of Independence. In retaliation, the British burned his library, and he also lost a son in the battle of Germantown. Actress Reese Witherspoon is one of his descendants.
Almighty Father! look in mercy down:
Oh! grant me virtue, to perform my part —
The patriot's fervour, and the statesman's art
In thought, word, deed, preserve me from thy frown.
Direct me to the paths of bright renown
Guide my frail bark, by truth's unerring chart,
Inspire my soul, and purify my heart;
And with success my stedfast purpose crown.
My country's weal — be that my polar star —
Justice, thou Rock of Ages, is thy law —
And when thy summons calls me to thy bar,
Be this my plea, thy gracious smile to draw —
That all my ways to justice were inclin'd —
And all my aims — the blessing of mankind.
— John Quincy Adams
The sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), had a long and illustrious career in the House of Representatives after serving one term in the White House. Known as “Old Man Eloquent,” he spent the latter part of his career in Congress working for civil liberties.
I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign nation of many sovereign states; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
I, therefore, believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.
— William Tyler Page
An enthusiastic patriot and lifelong public servant, William Tyler Page (1868–1942) was a descendant both of president John Tyler and Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His “Americans' Creed” was compiled of phrases pulled from numerous historic documents, and the House of Representatives adopted it in 1918. It is part of the naturalization ceremony for U.S. citizens.
It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defence of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the command of it.
You may believe me, my dear Patsy, when I assure you in the most solemn manner that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad.…
It was utterly out of my power to refuse this appointment, without exposing my character to such censure as would have reflected dishonor upon myself, and have given pain to my friends.…
I shall rely, therefore, confidently on that Providence which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you in the fall.
— George Washington
Martha Dandridge Custis (1731–1802) met George Washington when she was in the enviable position of being one of the wealthiest and most beautiful young women in Virginia. As a widow, she had sole control of her fortune, a perk she would have to give up if she remarried. But marry George she did — after only five meetings — and by all accounts, theirs was a loving, faithful union of forty-three years.
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty.
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies;
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us;
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun
Of our new day begun,
Let us march on, till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet, with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our parents sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by thy might
Led us into the light:
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee;
Shadowed beneath thy hand
May we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.
— James W. Johnson
An abridged list of the accomplishments of renaissance man James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) includes educator, writer, anthropologist, lawyer, activist, musician, and diplomat. He originally wrote the words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for a celebration recognizing Abraham Lincoln's birthday. In 1919 the NAACP adopted the song as “The Negro National Anthem.” Part of the beauty of the piece is that it can be interpreted to mean any number of things.