THE JOY OF FRAGRANCE-Part 1
by Mary Webb
"Chests of fragrant medicinal balm
To work cool ointments for the grievèd flesh."
CHARLES WELLS.
AS the colour-blind slowly learn to distinguish shades of blue and green, so the scent-clogged may explore the almost unknown delight of fragrance; until they can disentangle the ravelled sweetness in the air. We know by the colour of her burden under what friendly roof the bee asked alms this morning – whether she begged in the brown hut of the figwort or the rosy pavilion of the willow herb. So when the wind comes along secret ways with the laugh of a naughty child who has found a treasure and will not tell of it, we know where he has been by the scents that cling to him like burrs to a truant lad. Here are the sharpness of bilberry leaves, the emanation of moss, the reek of a blue-spired bonfire, the resin of sticky poplar buds, the metheglin of white violets, and somewhere among them lingers the keenness of spray from the home of sea-mews.
Sometimes, when the east wind is full of meditative savagery, one almost fancies that a hot odour may have travelled in its caravan from the heart of China, bringing us a message from the spice trees of Kwangtung.
As in some uncanny flowers and distorted trees there seems to be an evil influence, so in many cloying scents there is sorcery. Down where the pale turf is dank, among the harsh smells of yew-trees, laurels and Herb Paris, one almost sees the malevolent fair face of Vivian, as she passes – delicate and dishevelled – among the tangled shadows, weaving incantations with her wimple. Crush the purple orchis or berries of black bryony, and their necromancy brings dim thoughts of evil schemings, dishonoured deaths, unholy rites. Then gather a spray of wild artemisia; its sweet influence will exorcise the sense of brooding harm; it brings remembrance of well-being and well-doing, of love triumphant and dreams come true. When the honeyed wine of apple blossom is in the air and the freshness of dew is like a caress, we hear the youth of the world laughing – we see Perdita with her arms full of daffodils, and Atalanta coming through the meadows with wet, white feet.
These immemorial essences fill the mind with purple haze and auroral mist, conjuring impalpable visions of ancient things.