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Rhyme and Reason

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

1806-1861

RECENTLY in Tower Hamlets, London a couple undertaking a civil marriage ceremony were told by the officials that they couldn't include in their marriage vows the phrase "to have and to hold" as it was judged too Christian on account of its use in the Book of Common Prayer.

It's all very well to kick God out if you don't believe in him, but it's another thing to impose your belief on others who hold that there is a divine being. It savours of Cromwell's bloody bullying when he chopped King Charles I's head off because, among other faults, he was married to a Catholic.

It is exactly a decade since, at the Oxford Registry, the clerk ruled that a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning How Do I Love Thee couldn't be used because of one mention of guess who? Yes you're right – God again.

The clerk produced a whole list of writers such as E M Forster and Kahlil Gibran whose work is also forbidden at civil weddings because of the God element.

This censorship by the looney left smacks of the Nazi bullies in Germany in the 1930s, who put a great deal of effort into humiliating German Jews at every possible opportunity, simply because of their religion and, later, some tried to exterminate them. Alas, a desire to oppress other people's views seems to be a facet of human nature.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (whose poem was censored by the Oxford office clerk) was married to the poet Robert Browning and wrote a series of exquisite sonnets which she translated from Portuguese.

Though she was an invalid, it was a marriage made in heaven as both partners had devoted their life to create verse which would outlast its time. Here is the sonnet How Do I Love Thee which was forbidden.


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