Treasures of Aromatic Literature-Tale of a Fan by Lafcadio Hearn

Treasures of Aromatic Literature-Tale of a Fan by Lafcadio Hearn

Pah ! it is too devilishly hot to write anything about anything practical and serious — let us dream dreams.

We picked up a little fan in a street-car the other day — a Japanese fabric, with bursts of blue sky upon it, and grotesque foliage sharply cut against a horizon of white paper, and wonderful clouds as pink as Love, and birds of form as unfamiliar as the extinct wonders of ornithology resurrected by Cuvieresque art. Where did those Japanese get their exquisite taste for color and tint-contrasts? — Is their sky so divinely blue? — Are their sunsets so virginally carnation? — Are the breasts of their maidens and the milky peaks of their mountains so white?

But the fairy colors were less strongly suggestive than something impalpable, invisible, indescribable, yet voluptuously enchanting which clung to the fan spirit-wise — a tender little scent — a mischievous perfume — a titillating, tantalizing aroma — an odor inspirational as of the sacred gums whose incense intoxicates the priests of oracles. Did you ever lay your hand upon a pillow covered with the living supple silk of a woman's hair? Well, the intoxicating odor of that hair is something not to be forgotten: if we might try to imagine what the ambrosial odors of paradise are, we dare not compare them to anything else; — the odor of youth in its pliancy, flexibility, rounded softness, delicious coolness, dove-daintiness, delightful plasticity — all that suggests slenderness graceful as a Venetian wineglass, and suppleness as downy-soft as the necks of swans.

1 Item, July 1,1881. Hearn's own title.

Naturally that little aroma itself provoked fancies; — as we looked at the fan we could almost evoke the spirit of a hand and arm, of phantom ivory, the glimmer of a ghostly ring, the shimmer of spectral lace about the wrist; — but nothing more. Yet it seemed to us that even odors might be analyzed; that perhaps in some future age men might describe persons they had never seen by such individual aromas, just as in the Arabian tale one describes minutely a maimed camel and its burthen which he has never beheld.

There are blond and brunette odors; — the white rose is sweet, but the ruddy is sweeter; the perfume of pallid flowers may be potent, as that of the tuberose whose intensity sickens with surfeit of pleasures, but the odors of deeply tinted flowers are passionate and satiate not, quenching desire only to rekindle it.

There are human blossoms more delicious than any rose's heart nestling in pink. There is a sharp, tart, invigorating, penetrating, tropical sweetness in brunette perfumes; blond odors are either faint as those of a Chinese yellow rose, or fiercely ravishing as that of the white jessamine — so bewitching for the moment, but which few can endure all night in the sleeping-room, making the heart of the sleeper faint.

Now the odor of the fan was not a blond odor: — it was sharply sweet as new-mown hay in autumn, keenly pleasant as a clear breeze blowing over sea foam: — what were frankincense and spikenard and cinnamon and all the odors of the merchant compared with it? — What could have been compared with it, indeed, save the smell of the garments of the young Shulamitess or the whispering robes of the Queen of Sheba? And these were brunettes.

The strength of living perfumes evidences the comparative intensity of the life exhaling them. Strong sweet odors bespeak the vigor of youth in blossom. Intensity of life in the brunette is usually coincident with nervous activity and slender elegance. — Young, slenderly graceful, with dark eyes and hair, skin probably a Spanish olive! — did such an one lose a little Japanese fan in car No. of the C. C. R. R. during the slumberous heat of Wednesday morning?