PARFUM DE JEUNESSE'-Lafcadio Hearn

Spring blossom Image Credit



PARFUM DE JEUNESSE by Lafcadio Hearn

"I Remember" — said an old friend, telling me the romance of his youth — "that I could always find her cloak in the cloakroom without a light, when it was time to take her home. I used to know it in the dark, because it had the smell of sweet new milk"

Which set me somehow to thinking of English dawns, the scent of hayfields, the fragrance of hawthorn days; — and cluster after cluster of memories lighted up in succession through a great arc of remembrance that flashed over half a lifetime even before my friend's last words had ceased to sound in my ears. And then recollection smouldered into reverie — a reverie about the riddle of the odor of youth.

That quality of the parfum de jeunesse which my friend described is not uncommon — though I fancy that it belongs to Northern rather than to Southern races. It signifies perfect health and splendid vigor. But there are other and more delicate varieties of the attraction. Sometimes it may cause you to think of precious gums or spices from the uttermost tropics; sometimes it is a thin, thin sweetness — like a ghost of musk. It is not personal (though physical personality certainly has an odor): it is the fragrance of a season — of the springtime of life. But even as the fragrance of spring, though everywhere a passing delight, varies with country and climate, so varies the fragrance of youth.

Whether it be of one sex more than of another were difficult to say. We notice it chiefly in girls and in children with long hair, probably because it dwells especially in the hair. But it is always independent of artifice as the sweetness of the wild violet is. It belongs to the youth of the savage not less than to the youth of the civilized — to the adolescence of the peasant not less than to that of the prince. It is not found in the sickly and the feeble, but only in perfect joyous health. Perhaps, like beauty, it may have some vague general relation to conditions ethical. Individual odors assuredly have — as the discrimination of the dog gives witness.

Evolutionists have suggested that the pleasure we find in the perfume of a flower may be an emotional reflection from aeons enormously remote, when such odor announced, to forms of ancestral life far lower than human, the presence of savory food. To what organic memory of association might be due, upon the same hypothesis, our pleasure in the perfume of youth?

Perhaps there were ages in which that perfume had significances more definite and special than any which we can now attach to it. Like the pleasure yielded by the fragrance of flowers, the pleasure given by the healthy fragrance of a young body may be, partly at least, a survival from some era in which odorous impressions made direct appeal to the simplest of life-serving impulses. Long dissociated from such possible primitive relation, odor of blossom and odor of youth alike have now become for us excitants of the higher emotional life — of vague but voluminous and supremely delicate aesthetic feeling.

Like the feeling awakened by beauty, the pleasure of odor is a pleasure of remembrance — is the magical appeal of a sensation to countless memories of countless lives. And even as the scent of a blossom evokes the ghosts of feelings experienced in millions of millions of unrecorded springs — so the fragrance of youth bestirs within us the spectral survival of sensations associated with every vernal cycle of all the human existence that has vanished behind us.

And this fragrance of fresh being likewise makes invocation to ideal sentiment — to parental scarcely less than to amorous tenderness — because conjoined through immeasurable time with the charm and the beauty of childhood. Out of night and death is summoned by its necromancy more than a shadowy thrill from the rapture of perished passion — more than a phantom-reflex from the delight of countless bridals; — even something also of the ecstasy of pressing lips of caress to the silky head of the firstborn — faint refluence from the forgotten joy of myriad millions of buried mothers.