To look at the features of “With Love,” it is immediately striking how much pain, sadness and desperation occurs alongside the passion and joy that would generally be expected from a Valentine’s Day-themed exhibit.
I approached the modest display of “With Love,” which can be found in the Woodruff Library, anticipating a flood of warm-and-fuzzy emotions. Instead, the memorabilia — comprised of letters, telegrams, poems and photos — often left me deeply troubled by the lovers’ melancholy. Several times, the exhibit presented the anguish of unrequited love.
Renowned Irish poet William Butler Yeats, for instance, promises in his poem “When You Are Old” that his love — for her soul, rather than her appearance — will endure. The display’s plaque reads that Yeats proposed to Maud Gonne, his love, four times before her eventual marriage to another man.
In a letter to her sister Kathleen, Gonne writes that she sees Yeats (referred to as “Willie”) as a friend — the ultimate kiss of death. The disclosure of this sentimental, awkward side of a figure as illustrious as Yeats speaks to the exhibit’s remarkable ability to uncover the idiosyncrasies of love.
“With Love” also has a section concentrated on Emory history, which displays an old Emory yearbook propped open to photographs of Dooley’s Frolics (the original name for Dooley’s Week) and the dance held for that occasion.
The black-and-white pictures of the event clearly indicate the excitement and thrill of the time, though it’s tough to get past the 1950s attire of the photos’ subjects.
The most unforgettable photograph of that portion of the exhibit, though, is far more casual and spontaneous. Dated April 1946, the snapshot depicts a couple — Lynn Hicks and Beverly Burgess — strolling across the bridge behind Woodruff Library, both carrying flowers. Holding hands and smiling at one another, the two appear genuinely engrossed in each other’s company.
I was most intrigued by a photograph of the couple, in which the famously unhappy pair ironically comes across as invariably content. Ted Hughes faces the camera cunningly, one leg crossed over the other, while Sylvia Plath holds out a collection of papers, looking at Hughes and laughing slightly.
The photograph was taken just after their marriage in 1956. Following much scandal, they separated in the autumn of 1962.
Lastly, the most recent item of “With Love” is a set of two poems authored by Carol Ann Duffy between 1988 and 1990. Composed on spiral notebook paper in ballpoint pen, these poems surface as relatable and commonplace and thus bridge the gap between viewing love as historical and viewing it as a present-day phenomenon.
Yet, despite this gap, perhaps the most remarkable thing about “With Love” is the consistency throughout the ages.
Of course, the contemporary letters are far more casual, and telegrams were sent less frequently. Still, “With Love” left me with the impression that the people of the 1930s and the people of the 1980s were ultimately faced with the same love-centric issue: It’s ridiculous, perplexing and impossible, but the quest for it continues nonetheless.
— Contact Emelia Fredlick