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The Poetry of Perfume

The Poetry of Perfume

The poetry of perfume

Perfume is the silent poem we breathe

A SMELL is a sensual experience that comes and goes without warning, transporting us instantly to other moments.

In particular, the smell that we call perfume can be emotionally vivid and mysteriously evocative.

Scent is evanescent yet powerfully present, compelling us to experience and contemplate its meaning.

Perfume is a volatile poem of emotions expressed as a spectral vapour, an invisible spirit, an elusive, almost nothingness of air.

It rises, transcends and transmutes from solid to ethereal; from seen to invisible.

It catalyses an olfactory awakening, whereby our deepest memories, emotions, desires and spirituality are aroused all in one fragrant sweep, in the very short journey of an odour from the nose into the brain.

Perfume - and particularly pure perfume of plants - prompts us to breathe in the world more deeply and whisks us off in unexpected directions.

Beautiful plant scent immerses us in an exotic smell-scape that is immediately redolent, emotional and meaningful.

More than any other sense, smell unearths nostalgia from within our deepest recesses.

Perfume, poetry and transfiguration are intimately, inextricably connected; the connection between scent and mood is endemic to our species and we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the obscurities behind this relationship.

Time and time again, exquisite scent that is laden with passion arises amongst poetic words to captivate us anew.

Perfume takes us on a sensory odyssey

Smell is its own language that expresses the ineffable; it gives voice to the vague, misty, ephemeral spaces into which words cannot venture.

Perfume takes us on a sensory odyssey that is symbolic rather than linguistic and poetry loves symbolism. There are no words that befittingly describe what we smell, because there is no language for olfaction.

Indeed smells cannot be well-articulated - oral language derived from the left-brain falls short. The words we use emerge from our aroused feelings and memories associated with the smell, less the odour itself.

Beautiful perfume bypasses the critical biases of the analytical left-brain and penetrates the veil of thoughts and concepts.

It takes us into the creative land of the limbic brain, where feelings, drenched in emotional meaning and nuanced memories rule.

The pleasures of smell are surely retrospective, yet compellingly anticipatory of things to come.

Experiences of heavenly aroma, evanescence, longing, loss, reminiscence and sensuality awaken the resident poet within us. The magical power of perfume, love and poetry fills the void and replaces the absence of something with an illusory, if not fantasised presence.

Our experience falls prey to the spell of the imaginary and the sensuous that makes the invisible world of perfume visible to us.

Enrapturing scent is formless and dances with creative energy and light all around, enveloping us, causing blossoms to descend, delivering silent messages to our senses of the Earth’s regenerative powers, like a momentary respite in eternity in the fast flowing river of time.

Suffused in You
Your summoning scent
Secrets itself silently
And sagaciously deep
Inside my sanctum
To lodge there, indefinitely
Like a founding member
Of my private smell library
And all I need do is
Breathe you in mere thought
And that persuasive perfume
Will engulf me sweetly
With penetrating presence 
A mere impulse away
In infinitesimal dosage
All the more potent
For such faint dilution
All the more ingenious
How suffused essence of you
Imbeds itself unbidden
To find home in habit
With holy hues to colour
My doing and undoing

We are touched by 
what we cannot grasp

When words are not enough to reveal the heart’s secrets, only poetry can convey the experience of beauty, spiritual ecstasy, inner worlds and transformation of the body.              

Scent, like love, passion, death, the unknown, the mystical and the Divine are the inexpressible spaces of intense human feeling that inspire poetry within us.

We are touched by what we cannot grasp or possess; we want to immerse in the ephemeral nature of life, the coming into being and the passing away of things.

Maybe this is because scent helps us rewire neural networks that allow the higher brain to conduct the orchestra of consciousness.

A smell is disembodied matter, a moving amorphous collection of tiny vaporous molecules that have not quite come into being, yet still promise the realisation of something solid.

Nonetheless, even without substance the smell has already announced itself to our emotional centre.

We may not return to this wonderful moment, but its perfume will be suspended in time and in our memory. Perfume reconstitutes within our minds impressions of past events that haunt us with lucid, relived memories.

Being safely distanced in time, past events can be tamed and consequently reworked and reshaped.

Perfume evaporates, leaving in its wake elusive vestiges; a residual trace of smell that repeatedly eludes our awareness yet speaks of irreversible loss.

Paradoxically as the intensity fades, the memories grow with inspiration and power over our psyche.

Scent is the raw fuel 
for the poetic impulse

While the olfactory sense is sometimes overlooked in day-to-day life, it has always provided a plethora of inspiration for poets.

History is laced, with poetical offerings about scent; consider Rumi, Hafez, John Milton, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Apollinaire, Emily Bronte to mention but a few.

They defined themselves as great poets by lyrically articulating the inexpressible nature of scent into its own unique rhetoric of candidly colourful imagery and metaphor.

Perfume for the poet is a fragrant portal to deeper knowledge and revelation.

It is worth remembering that across history, the perfumes that stirred the imagination of the great masters of poetry were the real botanical deal, not some chemical replication like today.

Scent was uncorrupted, extracted directly from the plants using whatever rudimentary methods were available in different cultures and times.

The poet’s noses were not subjected to a sanitised, deodorised modern world imposed by an odour-phobic society.

Of course the fragrant majesty of wild Nature and the actual fragrant plants themselves were the original muses.

Today, a synthetic laboratory perfume, manufactured en masse, according to a fiscal brief from a cosmetic house to target a ‘smell-blind’ audience, is a far cry from the perfumes chelated by nature in early times.

This was the raw real, botanical stuff that excited great poets.

Indeed pure plant scent is an indispensible part of the enlightened sensorium of the modern-day natural perfumer.

Such a botanical perfumer is harder to find but certainly one to seek out if one wants to discover the extraordinary treasure of an authentic scent that exposes the mysterious magic in the moment.

Only pure plant perfume poeticises the prosaic and enters us with the greatest intimacy so we that we might savour each aromatic moment like a perfumed pilgrimage to the soul.

SOLOMON’S Song of Songs is a poetic celebration
of a young girl’s spontaneous love and strong connection
to the sensuous nature and includes the use of perfume.
Her alluring voice draws the man with a subtlety
and mystery.  She compares herself to a garden
with choice fruits for the lover to feast.

And says . . .

“My lover is to me a sachet of myrrh
Resting between my breasts
My lover is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
From the vineyards of En Gedi . . .”

Poetic Persian Perfume

Perfume and poetry were inextricably linked in ancient Persian culture; references were prolific in classical Persian poetry that had its mystical roots in the sensual world. Perfume represented transcendence that inspired mystical verses.

Perfume was a love poem and an ecstatic experience leading to divine realisation. Eyes closed, senses turned inward, the fragrant word intermingled with breath and the body of the poet undergoes a volatilization that opens into the spiritual.

The Arabic phrase ‘Divine Essence’ is used in Hafez’s poetry to refer to God. Interestingly, Divine Essence in Arabic, al-Dhat, is feminine.  

In turn, the poetry itself is the distillation of one’s experiences and quests.

Roses bloom with abandon in the garden of Hafez: “The air is perfumed, perfect, O Lord,” he writes. 

Few poets surpassed Rumi, whose mystical words are laced with perfumed longing for Divine love.

Fragrance plays a role in not only beautifying Sufi practice but also by providing spiritual inspiration through its myriad avatars.  Krishnaraj Iyengar

Poetry captures erotic Eros

The idea that perfume is the sex of plants is so poetic and has prompted a deluge of spicy, romantic and ‘come hither’ names and concepts from the big cosmetic houses to promote their next big scent.

Certainly the power of suggestion supersedes the actual aphrodisiacal power of the artificial concoctions that they are describing.

Yet the real and pure perfume from exquisitely scented plants will always have more seductive appeal and erogenous pull.

There is nothing more sensual than a flower at full bloom; all of Nature is seduced into the olfactory dance of the flower’s proliferation.

The plant, usually the flower, exudes its sweet siren scent to entice and guide the many pollen carriers so that it can proliferate.

Not only pollinating insects are attracted to the flower but also birds, bats and other mammals, including water and fructifying wind; all have a hand in floral sex.

Why not become fresh from the gentleness of the heart-spring?
Why not laugh, like a rose?
Why not spread perfume?  Rumi

The human impulse to attract a mate follows a similar pattern; humans are innately drawn to the plant’s aromatic charms and want a piece of the mating action too.

Extracting the essence, humans wear the seductive smell of plants to magnetise their mate.

From the earliest times this basic human compulsion to mimic a plant’s mating rituals by wearing their sexual exudates for their own sexual proclivities has persisted up until the dawn of the modern perfume industry.

Chemistry, by isolating smell molecules, may have unbound the world of fragrance from what is found in nature but it was to the deficit of human holistic health. 

Some of the synthetic scents manufactured smell quite seductive; chemists are quite clever at simulating the plant’s actual odour cost effectively.

However, even though the better-quality perfumes contain small amounts of real plant essences, their largely chemical composition will never have the same magnetic lure of the real plant’s essence.

Real plant extracts affect human sexuality at the fundamental instinctual level, which synthetic smells fail to achieve.

Baudelaire: the perfume obsessive

From early times, the sensual allure of exquisite plant scent has been a subject of much poetic proselytising.

Baudelaire was quite obsessive about the erotic appeals of perfume, elevating it to a stature never before seen in the history of poetry.

His inspired poetry rendered perfume as a mode of aesthetic perception, a way of perceiving beauty.

He wrote of aroma-induced ecstatic passion that altered consciousness, culminating in mystical states.

His fragrant passages conjure sensual, voluptuous and exotic imagery; we can almost smell the sultry odour of concupiscence through his luxuriant words.

To Baudelaire, to smell beautiful perfume was “extravagant and extraterritorial... ecstasy” accompanied by “a delightful disembodiment whereby the... body and soul become an airy, vaporous reality.”

When, on our late, hot autumn afternoons,
Eyes closed, I breathe
Your breast’s warm, heady scent,
I see a sun, fixed in the firmament,
Shining on dazzling shores: strand, rolling dunes;

One of those lazy, nature-gifted isles,
With luscious fruits, trees strange of leaf and limb,
Men vigorous of body, lithe and slim,
Women with artless glance that awes, beguiles,

Lured by your scent, led on to charming clime,
I see a port, all mast and sail,
Battered and buffeted by tide and time;

And all the while green tamarinds exhale
Perfumes that fill my nostrils and my soul,
Blending with sounds of sailors’ barcarole


You have thrown into this world the fragrance of musk. 
And perfume itself into nothingness.
A hundred thousand murmurs have resulted from this scent.
That was tossed onto the 
earth and into the air.  Rumi

Harnessing plant scent to
cultivate visionary poetry

All roads lead to the heart

IF PERFUME catalyses our emotional cache to unfold, and poetry is also rooted in our world of feelings, then both come under the dominion of the heart - our master organ.

Scent cracks open our heart so that it may outpour the poetic stirrings of the soul.

Physiologically, a plant’s smell molecules enter the human organism via the skin, the nose or the gut; they get carried in blood and lymph to diffuse out of capillaries into tissues.

Whatever way a plant’s volatile particles enter into our body, they always make their way to the heart, their first port of call.

It is always from here, that the aromatic actives are pumped out with greater velocity through the aorta artery to be thoroughly distributed, reaching the lungs, kidneys, liver and the rest of the body.

The metabolites will continue to journey back to the heart and through the liver again and again, refining the metabolites, transforming them each time by the biochemical processes of the body into what the body can safely assimilate on a deeper level.

Effectively, the body has distilled its own bespoke cocktail of bio-chemicals, which are not the same by now as the original plant molecules, so that it can exert more effectively therapeutic action at the tissue/cellular level.

The pertinent point revealed here, is that it is the heart that governs the plant scent molecule’s journey throughout the body and its pumping action gives it extensive reach and healing potential.

Poetic outpourings of the Heart

Esoterically, the scent molecule enters the heart chakra, Anahata, the realm of deep connection, peace and love in its purest form; a space where no sorrow can enter.

The heart is the centre of the human microcosm, where spirit resides between the visible and invisible worlds.

The heart’s internal expression of Prana, or life force, is called Vyana Vyu and it flows from the heart and lungs to the peripheral body in a circular, pulsating motion. It governs circulation on all levels, including qualities of expansiveness and pervasiveness.

Having learned that the plant’s scent molecule spends a lot of time in the heart area, through focussed control and cultivation of awareness of both the plant and the heart chakra, we are able to create optimal health and well-being.

Its own poetic story

This chakra is the verdant psychological centre for the evolution of idealism, the longing for expansion of self-concept and worldview, in truth all things that urge us to write poetry.

Creative visualisation can be a powerful tool if we use the powers of the heart chakra when we breathe in beautiful scent; we can envisage love and light, engulfing the heart-scape and flooding all the receptive cells of the body.

Without the interference of the dictating mind, the smell itself now weaves its own poetic story, not the one we expect or want it to be, but the essence of what it is.

Scent and its poetry cultivate the beautiful and the good, the seeds of possibility that live in every human heart: generosity, kindness, and compassion. These qualities ennoble our hearts and leave no residue of regret in our minds.

Divine poetry flows through us

Poetry discloses the perfumed word (and, by implication, perfume itself) as a powerful living force, metaphysical in nature and impact.

In this way, pure perfume can help us recognise the magnitude, the beauty and the infinity of who we really are when we accept the oneness of life.

We are spiritual, sensory animals transformed by the perfume’s poem and if we breathe deeply into its enveloping embrace we attune to the heartbeat of oneness and the miracle of life’s diversity.

When we attain more refined states of awareness and receptivity, we vibrate at a higher frequency so that the beautiful smell of perfume connects us with the Divine to speak through us with visionary, inspirational poetry.

How I recreate you

Keenly my mind reconstitutes anew
Free flying and volatile particles of you
That float into me on the breeze at dusk
All earthy, floral, green and musk
The heady pull of blooms at night
Perceived beyond the bounds of sight
Stealthy scent all wispy, obscure
That carries essence of your allure
Disembodied matter wafts adrift
Not quite in being – a sense, a whiff
But announces itself to me instead
Unmistakable inside my head
Informer of unspoken desire
Vaporous form of you, afire

And when it enters into my nose,
Where only something special goes
Your perfect perfume is so arcane
It reaches waiting parts of brain
That give meaning to what I smell
Impossibly vivid tales to tell
Jagged smell atoms precisely fit
My matching jigsaw parts to sit
A hippo-campal revolution does unfold
Delicious deluge of memoirs untold

A host of sensory shenanigans surges
Exultant, wild, abandoned urges
Incredible feelings of candour and depth
The torrid times we both laughed and wept
A fragrant realisation is catalysed
An olfactory awakening actualised
In the immediate here and now
Of our preordained story and how
You became the indispensible part
Of the enlightened sensorium of art
Alive and thumping here in my heart

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