Lore of Sweet Odors by Eliza Calvert Hall

 
Summer Evening



I had thought myself deeply learned in the lore of sweet odors. I know that the orient spells of sandalwood can intoxicate like the opium-pipe or the draft of Indian hemp. I know the delicate differences and resemblances between the odors of individual roses. I know that when nature made the coarse hollyhock, she gave it the almond perfume that floats over the waves of the Hellespont from the petals of the patrician oleander growing on its banks. And I know that in the same mood she dowered the vulgar horseweed with the breath of the mignonette. Every odor is to me as a note of music, and I know the discords and harmonies in the long, long scale of perfume. I know that heliotrope and mignonette make a dissonance, and heliotrope and tearoses a perfect third; that there is a chord of melody in heliotrope, tea-roses, and honeysuckle, and in the orange-blossom or tuberose a dominant note that is stronger than any symphony of perfume that can be composed from summer’s garden-beds. There are perfumes as evanescent as the dreams of youth, and others as persistent as the memories of childhood. Go into the fields in February, gather the dead pennyroyal that has stood through the rains and snows of a long winter, and you will find in its dry stems and shriveled leaves the same gracious scent the green plant has in ]'une. A rose of last October is a poor deflowered thing; but turn to the ice-bound gardenwalks where, a month before, the chrysanthemum stood in autumn splendor. The beautiful acanthus-like leaves and the once gorgeous blossoms hang in brown tatters, but still they hold the perfume of lavender and camphor, and from autumn to spring the plant stands embalmed in its own sweetness, like the body of a mummied Pharaoh wrapped in precious gums and spices. I know that the flowers called scentless have their hours when the spirit of perfume visits them and lends them for a brief season the charm without which a flower is only half a flower. I have found the fragrance of ripe cherries in the wood of the cherry, parted a lifetime from the parent tree. I have marveled over the alchemy that gives to the bitter shriveled fruit of the wild crab-apple tree a fragrance as sweet as its blossom. The heart of a child beats in me at the scent of a green walnut or a handful of fresh hickory leaves, and I have cried out for words to express what I feel when the incense of the wild grapre-blossoms rises from the woodland altars of late spring and I stand, a lonely worshiper, at a shrine deserted "since the old Hellenic days." But what was the that breath coming across from the meadows on the sun-warmed air? Was it a lost breed from the Indian Ocean, caught in some gulf stream of the ari and drifted down into the wind-currents that blow across Kentucky fields in May?
From a Ride In Town by Eliza Calvert Hall