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This report is taken from PN Review 131, Volume 26 Number 3, January - February 2000.

The Joyfulst Day Lawrence Sail

It may have been less common through the ages than the elegy, the epitaph, the eclogue or the epigram, but the epithalamion has certainly had and held its place among poetic occasions. The tendency of poets to see weddings as opportunities for praise, and to commission themselves accordingly, seems an entirely sympathetic one, even without the contemporary possibility of outflanking yard-long wedding lists despatched by department stores. And given the new freedoms about where and how marriages may be celebrated, you might even expect a new flowering of poems to meet the circumstances. Nowadays a civil ceremony may be held almost anywhere. Licensed premises (sic) range from hotels and stately homes to moored boats and football grounds. As Kate Gordon's A Practical Guide to Alternative Weddings (Constable, 1998) makes clear, 'the only stipulation for obtaining a licence for premises is that they must be fixed (i.e. not mobile), open to the public, suitably solemn and indoors'. In Scotland, as no doubt befits our devolved state, the law is different: there it is the celebrant who must be approved, not the place. North of the border, presumably anywhere to which a consenting official can be lured is acceptable, whether a balloon in mid-flight or a waterfall in full uproar.

Yet, to return to England and Wales, it is not quite as simple as you might think. Given that the ceremony is wafer thin - a lifelong commitment articulated in the briefest of events, so that even the word ...

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