Love Stories: A Literary Map for Valentine's Day
This Valentine’s Day, FM charts the course of true literary love—platonic and romantic—across Harvard’s campus and through the ages.
Adrienne C. Rich ‘51
Rich didn’t publish her seminal “Twenty-One Love Poems” until 1976—two decades after she graduated from Radcliffe. Even so, some of those poems evoke the intensity of college love: “We want to live like trees, / sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air, / dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding, / our animal passion rooted in the city.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Class of 1821 & Henry David Thoreau, Class of 1837
Although these two literary giants and famous friends probably did not, despite legend, live together at Harvard, Thoreau did later stay on Emerson’s estate. One visitor recalled, “[Thoreau] was much at home with Emerson: and as he remained through the afternoon and evening, and I left him still at the fireside, he appeared to me to belong in some way to the household... [Emerson] seemed to anticipate [Thoreau’s] views, preparing himself obviously for a quiet laugh at Thoreau’s negative and biting criticism.”
Harold Brodkey ’52
Brodkey published his first short story collection, “First Love and Other Sorrows,” just six years after graduation. It features “Sentimental Education,” a tale of a romance between a Harvard boy and a Radcliffe girl that opens on the Widener steps and closes in front of Adams House—Ali MacGraw does not make an appearance.
Frank R. O’Hara ’50 & Edward S. J. Gorey ’50
Before O’Hara urged Lana Turner, “we love you get up” in his “Lunch Poems,” or Gorey illustrated an alphabet of deaths in “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” the two were roommates in Eliot House. “They gave the best parties,” poet Donald Hall ’51 said, as quoted in a 2007 Harvard Magazine article. What did an O’Hara/Gorey soirée feature? As reported by O’Hara’s biographer, Frank Gooch, party guests lay on chaise lounges and listened to Marlene Dietrich records.
Robert L. Frost, Honorary Class of 1937
Frost, an associate of Adams House, famously wrote in his 1920 poem “Fire and Ice,” “Some say the world will end in fire, / Some say in ice. / From what I’ve tasted of desire / I hold with those who favor fire...” It’s a powerful sentiment, but it might be a little much to drop into a note to your Valentine this year.