Roxana Villa: Perfume in a Poem
End Note: Perfume in a Poem

Liz Zorn: Perfume in a Poem

Degas: L'Absinthe
Edgar Degas: L'absinthe (The Absinthe Drinkers)

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
- Ezra Pound -

I went through a Lost Generation phase in my teens. And have always been a fan of Ezra Pound.  These kinds of Minimalist poems are perhaps the most informative. No fluff, no posturing. Just cut to the chase and be done with it.

The first thing that popped into my head after reading this were the words Sweet Decay.  It reminds me of a time long gone. And yet is still relevant today. The death of mankind, the death of nature. And perhaps, rebirth is  in there somewhere. Between the lines.

Also, and for reasons that I am not concerned with analyzing. I immediately thought of the Degas painting, “The Absinthe Drinkers.” 

I imagined what that room might smell like, and decided that it smelled like Sweet Decay. The end of something that never quite had it’s day. It smelled like the Station, The Black Bough, and countless other things that pull our minds to a place of nostalgic reverence.

This smell is of the earth, the attic, years of cooking and smoke clinging to old walls. Brittle books half eaten by bugs and rats, and the faint sweetness of an old corsage.

Here is a formula for a fragrance that pulls all of those things together for me:

Patchouli 10
Oakmoss 50%, 6
Labdanum 50%, 4
Atlas Cedar 6
Heliotropin 20%, 6
Agarwood (Indian) 50%, 4
Birch Tar 15%, 2
Cepes 20%, 2
Oriental Fragrance Base, 4 (custom blend of vanilla, frankincense, sandalwood, and amber)
Set into a 1x Orris tincture

Liz Zorn
SOIVOHLE' Parfume Moderne /
Liz Zorn Perfumes


Editor's Note:

Liz Zorn is, in many ways, the perfect perfumer to close our Pound/Metro "Perfume in a Poem" series.  Within her perfume line, Liz Zorn Perfumes, now called SOIVOHLE' Parfume Moderne, she brings together two themes which are suggested by Pound's haiku and which have found resonance again and again in the works of the perfumers here:  nature and the man-made world.  She distinguishes the two modes of perfume artistry as "Modern Natural," perfumes which contain only materials of natural origin, and "Mixed Media," in which she artistically complementsLiz Zorn natural materials with high-quality synthetics.  On her website,, she explains the distinctions:

Modern Natural - Expanding the art of natural perfumery to meet the sensibilities of the 21st century. Our blends contain only materials of natural origin, including traditional materials such as essential oils, absolutes, balsams and resins. We also incorporate smaller amounts of natural plant and essential oil fractions, custom tinctures and modern plant extracts. This allows us to expand our palette considerably, which also allows for a more complex and interesting natural fragrance.  Contains natural materials.

Mixed Media - We believe that a high quality perfume must contain high quality materials. So we patterned our line of Mixed Media Perfumes on the early days of Modern Perfumery, when fragrances were still created using a high level of quality natural materials, and only complimentary additions of alternative media. An old-school-meets-new-age approach that allows us to take advantage of the most current breakthrough innovations in scent, as well as staying grounded in the luxury of natural essence. Contains natural and man made materials.

Within the natural range, my firm favorite is the dark, spicy vetiver of Underworld, which contains all the elements that a perfume of that name should include: three different varieties of vetiver, cinnamon, cocoa absolute, coffee absolute, ginger lily, labdanum, pomegranate absolute, rose absolute, geranium leaf, birch tar, vanilla, sweet amber, Jasmine auriculatum absolute, angelica, mosses and woods.  At times, Underworld smells as inviting and comforting as a cup of warm, spiced tea, and then in the next instant it is thunderous and complex with leathery notes and dark, mossy woods.  The floral elements serve to round out the overall composition of this outstanding blend, which should be on any vetiver lover's to-try list.

Tulips by Liz Zorn, 2000 From the Mixed Media line, the fascinating blueberry-lavender Allegory and the exotic Calcutta are simply phenomenal.  Allegory is among the most beautiful lavender blends I've ever tried, and the addition of blueberry, tobacco, and osmanthus on a base of smoky vanilla makes it one of the most unusual.  Calcutta, from the "Good Luck Series" of Mixed Media perfumes is, my husband tells me, an extremely accurate rendition of Indian temple incense.  He spent part of his childhood in various ashrams in India, and the first time I wore Calcutta, he said I smelled exactly like the incense that he remembered burning throughout many of those cities.  I have never been to India, but Calcutta, with notes of Pandanus flower, sandalwood, cardamom, and smoky resins, must capture the very best of the aromas that India has to offer.

Liz Zorn is not only an accomplished perfumer, but also an active blogger, visual artist, and poet.  Her visual art has been widely exhibited, and examples of her series of black-and-white floral photographs, two of which are displayed here, can be viewed at   Her poetic sensibility is evident in her deeply-felt blog entries, which have convinced me that she is more like me than perhaps any perfumer I've come to know.  Or perhaps it is that I wish I was more like her... She does not shy away from the darker realms of inspiration, but she does remember to come back to the surface and frequently reflects on those passages.  Reading her blog is a fascinating and thorough education in the daily challenges and joys of a modern perfumer's life. 

She recently posted a few lines on her blog regarding the development of the "Perfume in a Poem" project.  I have reread this entry often and feel it is a beautiful encapsulation of the process of allowing artistic inspiration to reveal itself:English Rose by Liz Zorn, 2000

A zillion things can spark a memory. Set a mood and turn an intangible idea into a tangible reality. A reality that can be held in the hand, or experienced in some tactile way. My own way of experiencing this, as a creative process, comes through the invoking of stillness, and the calming of spirit. Which allow the memories to come and go. Ideas to skate along on the surface, until something clicks, and the profundity of things not seen blend seamlessly with an intense visceral knowing, that is powerful enough to make the transition between worlds complete.

An image like: Petals on a wet black bough, can then transform into anything imaginable. And we as journeymen, can connect the dots of experience and circumstance.

I look out my window and think of times long past.
Smells and spirits that linger on the air,
In the earth, and on my lips,
Unspoken, and fingertips.
Waiting, watching in silence.
Like the Raptor, for something to move.

Samples of any five of Liz's beautifully blended fragrances, from either or both lines, can be ordered at   For those who are familiar with the previous incarnation of the perfumes under the Liz Zorn Perfumes brand, none of those fragrances will be discontinued - you can still special order many of the fragrances found at  A sample of one of her most popular scents, the spicy rose perfume extrait Sinti from the Modern Natural line, will be included in our grand giveaway prize on March 31.

UPDATE: Liz has also made the scent she describes for us here and a sample will go to our lucky Grand Prize Winner!

Metro Perfume Giveaway



"L'Absinthe" by Edgar Degaa. 1876.  Photo of Liz Zorn, "English Rose" and "Tulips" courtesy of the artist and used with her permission.

Comments are encouraged!  Please read the initial post in this series for the details on our extraordinary giveaway which will take place on March 31.

Posts prior to 2015 first appeared on my previous website, memory & desire (


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A riveting picture of scents painted by Liz. Will have to go back and reread and try to imagine how that room might smell. Thought-provoking!


The fragrance sounds wonderful. I will be going over to her site(s). Underworld sounds like a must-try. I will have to email her about the mosses, however. I recently figured out that I am allergic to genuine oakmoss and need to stay with the nonallergenic simulations. Is that unfortunate or what? There are worse allergy problems, I know.




Reading the daily posts for this project has been a real delight!


Heather, you're a genius!


I love Degas and I love how Liz almost uses this painting as a link between the poem and the perfume. Its facsinating how one sensory experience can explain another(even when or especially when stemming from a different 'sense'or sensory modality)..I loved everything that she wrote(I know, I've used 'love' way too often in this
And these lines:
"I look out my window and think of times long past.
Smells and spirits that linger on the air,
In the earth, and on my lips,
Unspoken, and fingertips.
Waiting, watching in silence.
Like the Raptor, for something to move."
are beautiful!

Lisa A

I agree - I would love to smell all of these creations!


This feels like the darkest take on the poem. That's not a bad thing, just an observation. "The end of something that never quite had it’s day." -- from what I imagine the perfume would smell like, it fits the quote so well.

This has been a wonderful series; too bad we can't all smell the resulting perfumes and ponder those, too.


this is maybe the closest interpretation to what my own would be.

Ruth Ruane

Thank you for posting the formula. This is a treasure. I am going to mix these together myself.
The painting Liz chose could have been painted for the perfume she made in the same way as the perfume was made for the poem. Wonderful creativity and generosity. Thank you again!


Now, I have been superfluous (corrected spelling!!) with TWO postings. Apologies


After reading the comments by Jason and MattS, anything that I could add would be superfluos.
Yes, a standing ovation to all is in order.


After reading the comments by Jason and MattS, anything that I could add would be superfluos.
Yes, a standing ovation to all is in order.

Gail S

Now I'm wondering what the Oriental Fragrance Base is. I've recently fallen in love with this perfumer's work and find that there is definitely some thread that ties them all together. Maybe it's this base? I've enjoyed this project immensely!


Thanks again, Heather, for this terrific project...and thanks Liz Zorn for another interesting take on Pound. Here is yet another perfumer whose work I feel I have to sample!


Hmm... going to have to try it out sometime...Oriental fragrance base though..? =) May I assume that Liz, you actually mixed up a small batch? I truly enjoyed your interpretation here as the sweet decay really got me.


Ah, Mz Liz.
Working in as many artistic media as you do, I'm happy to see your impressions.
All that is lacking is a song of your own making.
And , true to your immense generosity with your sharing of knowledge, you post a formula...
Classic. Iconoclastic.
Have I told you lately , that I love you ?
Well, I do.


I've always loved the painting Liz chose to accompany her interpretation of the Pound poem. The perfect ending to the project, it perfectly illustrates the pleasure of the last two weeks and the melancholy of seeing it all end. Thanks to all the perfumers involved and a standing ovation for Heather for coordinating the entire project. Much, much love and appreciation for your efforts.


not being a perfumer myself, i dont even know how to begin to interpret the formula given, but it seems very dark and mysterious. it isnt floral, which i find interesting, given the fact that a good third of the poem is about petals.

this series of interpretations on pound's poem is utterly fascinating! if so much can be done with 20 words, i wonder what kind of epic perfume could come from one of shakespeare's sonnets for instance!

Darlene Johnson

I probably shouldn't do this but I feel the urge to... Wow Jason! you weren't kidding with those adjectives!! lol very well put... and I'm sure Liz must feel you could critique her any day!


Ms. Zorn: Not being a perfumer, or even well versed in perfumery, its slightly harder for me to imagine the fragrance you've mixed up here. Sadly I am one for whom adjectives were invented. This all said, your writing about the inspiration for the scent, and about the connection between the painting and your image of the poem, was probably my favorite of the bunch. I'm not terribly into nostalgia, but I do love a potent shot of melancholy when it feels earned. Your playful backhand to the promise of rebirth (at best, "between the lines"), is a perfect example of what I mean. It brings to mind that middle section of Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" when the house just sits... Yes, it will be summer again, but for now all that is settled is dust. And the Pound poem too, if one is so bent, can be read with that in mind. Not just the "sweet decay" of the Metro, but the sweet decay of the moment that brought the poem into being, and will never be again. Before we can remember all the beautiful faces we've seen, we must lose them.

This brings me to my final point. Your line, "The end of something that never quite had it’s day" is too delicious for more words. It captures a blue-noted, half-moon of a smile to so much we see and do. Hell, it should be written on most of our tombstones. I forgive you for dulling the edges of this lovely phrase with the gesture toward nostalgia that follows- I do understand the pull to turn the page. For now though I just want to let that scent of sweet decay linger a bit. I offer everyone a toast to what has been lost forever. May it eventually be remembered with at least a touch of warmth and fondness.

Darlene Johnson

sweet and simple! but not without power!!


I feel as if I'm transported back in time with this post. I agree the formula adds tremendously, but also gives it a little mystery. I'm trying to "visualize" with my nose!


It's terrific that Liz posted a formula!

Nicole Meredith

i am familiar with several of Liz Zorn's perfumes - in fact, there is one, formerly called _chrysallis_, which i only wear when i go to the doctor's office. that is a compliment! anyhow, Liz, I love that while you craft beautiful perfumes, you are not afraid to also create within the realm of "scent portraiture," and to blur the line between the two (as shown in your entry here today).

i am sad that this project has reached its end for now - it's become a daily treat. a thank you to all involved, all who contributed and created! xx.nicole

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