Simply put, it is a wedding poem. It is an ancient tradition. It is thought that ancient poets would write them for the couple and serenade them with it on their wedding night!
Some common features are who the individuals are in the couple, how they looked on their wedding day, and the events of their wedding day. Some epithalamiums (especially the modern I should think) deal with the poet’s experience at the wedding. They often end up being quite long. The poem is sort of a wedding gift.
Although this is an established poetic form, there is no set form (as in meter, rhyme, etc.)
I had a problem. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to a wedding. I could write one for a wedding I went to a long time ago, but that didn’t grab my imagination in any way. In fact, this form sat on the back burner for a while until I was listening to Grieg’s Norwegian Folksongs about a week ago and came across this:
Which got me thinking about goblin weddings and all things goblin. And I ended up writing something strange. It is an epithalamium for a goblin wedding.
Epithalamium for a Goblin Wedding
by Paul Mathers
Perfect circle of phosphorus fungi
seem to waltz on my midnight lawn
as I’m drawn out to my porch from fever dreams.
I shiver up a realization
of what I’ve stumbled into
and my subsequent state
of two obligate parasites
fixed to one another.
First came the procession
of goblin children rough and tumble
strewing behind them by hand
and overturned baskets
fighting and biting a carpet
of morning glory, azalea,
frangipani, poppy, nightshade,
fennel, foxglove, belladonna,
herb of grace of Sunday
Following were the goblin merchants
catering carts of breadfruit, melons,
crisp citrus and all bright color.
The horrid little men scampered
about the lawn giving fruit to
(who tomorrow would walk dazed in the daylight),
(who would fly into a bakery predawn
and be hit by the baker’s broom),
and one scraggled man
came and offered me a pomegrante,
“Hungry? Thirsty? Long ceremony ahead!”
Here the brooding groom and swarm of groomsmen
all in grey and brown, hats with large brims,
muddied boots with suits.
He with the abyss in his eyes,
born before Sumeria,
he who gave every reality slip,
be they drunk or drug addled or deranged,
the blessed moment of cursed clarity,
he who would lift back the curtain
to show how all numbers make sense
or the meaning of history
or the plot against them by “they”
which they would remember happening on waking
but forget the revelatory matter.
At last the gnarled blackwood carriage
appeared from the circle
lead by a train of fifteen rats,
carved with spirals and shoots of thought,
dark as purpose in a human heart.
Within sat she, the grey lace clinging
to every enticing contour,
her hair curls twining waterfall
of merlot down to the small of her back.
The large eyes the pale of a lost thought.
She was the niggling whisper of erotic discontent.
Every moment when the sight of another woman
drains hearth and home and ‘stablished love
of hope for a moment of “what if with her”
I knew was spoken in the voice of this princess.
Then the guests filled their seats:
wraiths, kobolds, demons, sprites,
the vampiric and lycanthropic,
upwards sit honored Oberon and Titania,
and everything else we blame things on
The priest, a tree genius,
with elegiacs to the solo
and praise to the nascent union
pronounced the joined existences.
The couple embraced like fighting dogs.
The groom’s teeth drew first blood
which is considered fortuitous in goblin weddings.
They mounted the carriage to great howls of delight
and reedy music like sinus stings on an autumn morn.
And all of the shadow people flitted back into shade.
I sat famished, smashed the fruit against the porch planks,
and ate the crimson seeds:
A reason why I can pine my life away
and I knew my parting gift: an excuse.