To Marry is to Die

Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s poem “The Marriage Vow” approaches the concept of marriage in what one could perceive as an attack on the institution, using the idea of language and words to illustrate the funeral Landon thinks a wedding to be. Landon makes this thought clear immediately, with her first line being “The altar, `tis of death!” (1). After all, the altar is where so many young women lay their dreams to rest, burying their hopes and desires to instead pledge fealty to a man who will never let her follow her heart. At the altar, a young woman is forced to “… sacrifice of all youth’s sweetest hopes” (2), is forced to give up so much of what makes her her – it makes sense that Landon would view a wedding as an occasion of sorrow and death, as something is dying, it’s just not a human being that’s being lifted into a coffin. This idea of the woman’s wedding being her funeral is also indicative of Landon’s own relationship with marriage and the way the institution was held in the Victorian era, as a woman would become her husband’s “property” in a sense after the marriage was sealed.

The power of words is a theme repeated in a lot of Landon’s work, and this theme is prevalent in “The Marriage Vow” as well. Landon writes, “It is a dreadful thing for woman’s lip / To swear the heart away” (3-4), indicating that it is the words of the marriage vow uttered by the woman that seals the heart’s fate and dooms her heart to death. This is Landon’s proof for the amount of power words hold, as the simple words of her vows are what put the woman to death, or at least condemn her heart to death. These words are binding, and are stronger than the woman’s passions, will, and dreams, strong enough to kill her.

Works Cited

Bridgewater State University Virtual Commons – Bridgewater State University. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2023, from 


4 thoughts on “To Marry is to Die”

  1. I really appreciate the argument you make and I like how you point out how Landon believes that words hold power. Here, she is specifically talking about the power of marriage vows, as both you and the title of the poem suggest. I think what you say about wives becoming the property of their husbands is a key point, as well, seeing as coverture laws actually did make them their husband’s property. I think the meaning of Landon’s poem is twofold. On the one hand, like you suggest, there is a metaphorical death that can occur. However, I think an argument could be made for the occurrence of a literal death. Men had the ability to “keep their wives in line” in whatever way they saw fit according to the rules of coverture, and as a result, domestic violence was not a common topic of discussion. Divorce was also rare. As a result, for women who found themselves in toxic and abusive relationships, the marriage that they enter could quite literally lead to their death.

  2. This connects really well to Joyce Carol Oatmeal’s post about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet I, which also explores the metaphorical death of a woman when she marries. This whole concept of altars and sacrifices reminds me of ancient Greek and Roman traditions of sacrificing animals (and sometimes people in mythology) to the gods. Could you say the woman is being sacrificed for her husband/family’s sake? Is a woman sacrificing only her childhood or also her future — is there a double meaning there?

  3. After reading the poems for today I thought it was interesting to see how Christina Rossetti though about love compared to how Letitia Elizabeth Landon viewed it. Whereas Landon warned against giving up everything to be with someone, Rossetti was willing to give everything up just so her lover could be happy. In the twelfth sonnet in “Monna Innominata ” the speaker even tells her lover that if he would be happier with someone else, she would let him go because his happiness was hers.

  4. This was an interesting interpretation of “The Marriage Vow” and I think your point about Landon’s belief in the power and significance that words hold is appropriate in regards to interpreting this poem. To your last argument in relation to how the power of words in marriage vows can result in death, I find it fascinating how in her articulation of this, their seems to be an interesting complex of agency attributed to words in this poem. According to the narrator marriage vows ultimately result in death, as they leave the woman, as you described, “property” of their husband. Though, the words within the vows spoken by the woman, are spoken on her own accord, so while these spoken vows are limiting her agency as a woman, the narrator is also receiving agency in that she is saying them herself.

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