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An epithalamion is a song or poem to celebrate a marriage. Usually addressed to the bride or groom or both, it is the poetic equivalent of the “best man’s” speech at a wedding party—it speaks of the joyous “marriage” of natural attractions, of the cycle of generations, of the universe’s plan, etc. There are several noteworthy example in literature. Spenser’s “Epithalamion” (1580?) and e.e. cummings’ “Epithalamion” (1923) are two exceptional examples. Edmund Spenser begins by calling on the bridesmaids to waken the bride at dawn, and ends with the night’s consummation (“conceald through covert night”); he calls on several Greek gods to bless the union (in the Renaissance tradition), and tells the gathered wedding party that “Juno, which with awful might/The lawes of wedlock still dost patronize” will be watching over this marriage. There are symbols of virginity and of childbirth.
Cummings’ “Epithalamion” uses Nature as a comparison to human marriage, with Earth and Sky the marrying couple, thus celebrating Spring as a “marriage” that brings life forth: (“Thou aged unreluctant earth who dost/with quivering continual thighs invite/the thrilling rain..”), thereby writing a paean to Spring at the same time, one of cummings’ favorite subjects.
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