Gregory Corso

Marriage by Gregory Corso

‘Marriage’ by Gregory Corso is a humorous and interesting poem about the pros and cons of getting married and everything that comes with it, like having children. 

The poem is written in a contemporary, stream-of-consciousness style that makes the poem entertaining and sometimes confusing to read. The poet does not hold back on detail as he jumps from place to feeling to experience. Readers should keep this in mind as they move from line to line. Often, each image does connect, but it may take some time to uncover those connections. 

Marriage by Gregory Corso


Marriage’ by Gregory Corso is a complicated and multi-faceted poem that describes the pros and cons of getting married. 

The poem begins with the speaker suggesting that he should get married, if for no other reason than because it’s expected of him. He knows that that’s the next step in his life, and he imagines what it would be like to find someone to start a relationship with. It’s a less-than-ideal picture of a partnership that he paints, focusing on meeting her parents, being forced into uncomfortable interrogations, and then eventually dealing with the chaos of a wedding and honeymoon. 

As the poem progresses, the speaker moves on from analyzing the cons of marriage to suggesting that maybe it would be a good thing for him to commit to. He can imagine having a child (before quickly rethinking and deciding that’s a terrible idea). The poem ends with the speaker reminding himself that love is another important part of marriage that he hadn’t considered. 

Structure and Form 

Marriage’ by Gregory Corso is a nine-stanza free verse poem. This means that the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Plus, the lines are very different in length. The stanzas range from four lines up to more than fifteen. They are filled with chaotic-sounding and sometimes confusing language written in a stream-of-consciousness style. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet uses a few literary devices. They include: 

  • Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line of verse. For example, “not getting angry saying You must feel! It’s beautiful to feel!”
  • Nonsense Langauge: the use of words that don’t necessarily make sense together. For example, “I get up from my big papa chair / saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!” 
  • Imagery: a particularly effective description of an experience or place. For example, “back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie.” The latter is also an example of personification
  • Allusion: a reference to something outside the poem’s content. For example, the poet mentions Greek and Egyptian culture in this poem.

Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

Should I get married? Should I be good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
Don’t take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It’s beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky-

In the first stanza of this free verse poem, the speaker begins by asking three rhetorical questions. All three of these revolve around getting married and what the traditional steps are as one ages. They should find someone, like the “girl next door” and woo her. The following lines are a creative description of what that might look like and what it shouldn’t look like. 

He imagines taking her to unique locations, talking about everything and nothing, and then feeling the requisite desire and kissing her. The speaker imagines how the woman might only go as far as him and how he won’t get angry because she, like he, isn’t feeling overwhelming passion but is more than anything going through the motions. Instead of this, he’ll do as he describes in the last lines of this stanza. 

He’ll “woo” her underneath the “constellations in the sky” while leaning against an “old crooked tombstone.” Here, the poet merges images of love and death as well as a reference to the expansiveness of the universe. This connects very easily to the speaker’s feeling that he should get married and move on with his life. 

Stanza Two 

When she introduces me to her parents
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?

The imagined relationship moves forward with the speaker meeting the girl’s parents. He’ll wear his hair combed and decked out in a suit and tie. The image of the tie strangling him in these lines represents the way that he feels as though he’s conforming to an image of himself that he’s not happy with. He’s only doing what he’s doing to make someone else happy. The following lines emphasize this, describing the speaker as trapped inside the girl’s home, meeting her parents and trying to navigate a new environment. 

There is a very clear stream-of-consciousness style of writing that comes through in these lines, for example, “How else to feel other than I am, / often thinking Flash Gordon soap.” The speaker moves from one image to the next, describing what he sees in the house. 

He steps back from including himself in the narrative, describing how anyone in this situation would be having a hard time. They’d have to sit and talk to the parents and deal with their opinion, and their fear, that their daughter is being taken away from them. The name “Mary-Lou” is used for the same reason as the poet’s use of the phrase “the girl next door.” It’s characteristically simple and stereotypical. 

Stanza Three 

Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
And should I then ask Where’s the bathroom?

The speaker wonders in the third stanza what he can tell the parents of the girl about himself. If he tells them one thing, will they like him? If he tells them the truth, will they dislike him? The entire situation is confusing and not something that he’s sure that he’s even interested in. 

Stanza Four 

O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy
a saint of divorce-

Finally, this stanza gets into a description of the wedding. This is one of the longest stanzas in the poem, something that makes sense considering that the poem is meant to be about marriage. It’s less than optimistic, depicting the wedding as something chaotic, unenjoyable, and not something that the speaker is at all looking forward to. 

There are people everywhere making all sorts of jokes, there are hoards of family members, flowers, chocolates, and everything else one might expect. 

The priest is of note in these lines, he’s described as looking at the speaker as though he “masturbated,” or sinned as he’s reading off the wedding vows. This is another way that the speaker emphasizes how unpleasant the entire affair is. Clearly, right now, getting married is not something that he wants to do or that he sees as having any redeemable features. 

The speaker also knows that everyone else knows what’s going to happen tonight. This is something else that bothers him, everyone knows that he’s going to have sex with his new wife tonight and that fact makes the entire proceeding less desirable. Niagara Falls comes into the poem at this poem, suggesting that the speaker imagines the very stereotypical honeymoon destination of Niagara Falls as the go-to option. 

He says that rather than enjoy the alls, he’d rather just live within them in the dark and be able to avoid all the over-the-top proceedings that go into the wedding. He scorns his marriage and is labeled as the “Mad Honeymooner,” a mysterious man who is only spoken about in legends

Stanza Five 

But I should get married I should be good
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust-

The fifth stanza is also quite long and consists of the speaker noting that although there is a great deal to dislike about marriage, he knows he “should” get married. It’s something that the world says he should do and, therefore, he feels compelled to do. 

He knows that it would be nice to come home to someone you love waiting for you by the fire. She’d want his baby, cook him food, and he’d get to do all those things that husbands do. As with the previous stanzas, this stanza is filled with nonsensical images, such as of “Christmas teeth” and “apple deaf.” These are mixed with more mundane descriptions, making the entire experience feel outrageous. 

The speaker decides halfway through this stanza that although getting married wouldn’t be enjoyable, he knows that he’d enjoy being married. He decides he’s going to do it, just as he’s going to do all the other things that he’s supposed to do in life. Rather than clearly outline what these might be, like saving for retirement, having children, etc., he mentions strange and sometimes silly suggestions, like “pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence.” 

Stanza Six 

Yes if I should get married and it’s Connecticut and snow
Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon

The line “I should get married” is repeated in the sixth stanza, creating an example of a refrain. This is followed by another very clear stream-of-consciousness passage in which the speaker describes getting married as something obvious, as obvious as the sky being blue of his being in Connecticut. The same thing applies to having a baby, experiencing sleepless nights, and having responsibility. 

He’d be living a new life with his past behind him. The speaker imagines raising a child and teaching the child everything it needs to know. In a style that readers have likely grown used to at this point, this is described in outrageous and confusing language. He imagines educating the child with images of artists, musicians, and more. 

Stanza Seven 

No, I doubt I’d be that kind of father
Not rural not snow no quiet window
No, can’t imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream-

The seventh stanza is another fairly long section of this free verse poem. The speaker goes back on what he said before, describing how he’d actually be a different type of father. He’d be the kind of father that raises his kid in the city in a poor apartment with bugs. There’d be children everywhere, screaming family members, annoying neighbors, and more. 

He’d be pressed for money, always haggling with the electric company and more. This change of thought makes him entirely go back to what he said before about getting married. Having imagined this less-than-ideal scenario, he decides. He doesn’t want to suffer this way and so he’d rather just avoid getting married at all. 

The speaker’s mind is changeable, readers should have noticed by this point, with him shifting gears almost immediately to imagine himself with a sophisticated woman who wouldn’t take him into a life like that he previously imagined. They’d live in a penthouse and smoke cigarettes at a huge window. They’d look out over the city and enjoy life together. 

But, the speaker notes, even that life is a form of confinement. 

Stanza Eight 

O but what about love? I forget love
and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

There is a clear transition between the seventh and eighth stanzas. There is something that he hadn’t considered in his analysis of marriage before, which is love. He hadn’t taken that into consideration and now decided that he can’t forget it any longer. He doesn’t think he’s incapable of love but is struggling to find someone that he wants to marry. 

He definitely, he adds, doesn’t want to marry someone like his mother and can’t help but like women who are already unattainable or married. Plus, men are off the table, so he’s found himself a bit at an impasse. There has to be “somebody,” he exclaims near the end of the poem, someone that he could fall in love with. He doesn’t want to be the only one at 60 years old who is alone peeing himself. Everyone else has a partner except him and that’s not something that he wants for himself. 

Stanza Nine

Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
so i wait-bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.

The final stanza is only four lines long. Here, the speaker suggests that he exists or is “possible,” so there should be a woman out there who is “possible” too. He’s been waiting and will continue to do, as she is. The poem ends with a unique reference to ancient Egyptian culture and waiting for 2,000 years for that one person and the type of happiness that he wants. 


What is the tone of ‘Marriage?’ 

The tone is outraged, curious, and at times determined. The speaker changes his mind several times throughout the poem’s nine stanzas. He is, at some points, entirely against the idea of getting married, while at others, he’s wholeheartedly invested in it. 

What is the theme of ‘Marriage?’ 

The theme is marriage. The speaker is interested in this traditional choice and how he both wants and doesn’t want to get married. He knows it’s something that’s expected of him, but he isn’t sure how he feels about it. 

What is the poem ‘Marriage’ about? 

The poem is about whether or not one speaker is going to follow the traditional path and get married. He contemplates its prose and cons in a stream-of-consciousness style

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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