Upcoming: The Perfume Inside the Poem
Mandy Aftel: Perfume in a Poem

Perfume in a Poem: In a Station of the Metro


In a Station of the Metro

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

- by Ezra Pound -

From Poetry, April 1913.  Online text via Poetry Foundation.  The current spacing of the text is from a later modification of the poem by Pound, published first in June 1913, and later in Pound's Gaudier-Brzeska: a Memoir, 1916.


Montmartre_entrance_paris_metroThe Poem:

For some time now, I've wondered whether Ezra Pound's short, beautiful poem "In a Station of the Metro" had any potential as a perfume.  In twenty words arranged into three lines (including the title), he succinctly brings to life the vision of a particular moment in time. Pound's Metro vision has become one of the cornerstones of modern and contemporary poetry, for it is one of the poems on which Pound's concepts of "Imagism" and "Vorticism" are anchored. 

In his 1916 book Gaudier-Brzeska: a Memoir, Ezra Pound explained his reasons for writing this poem:

"Three years ago in Paris I got out of a train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then anotherEzra_pound beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion....

"The "one image poem" is a form of super-position, that is to say, it is one idea set on top of another. I found it useful in getting out of the impasse in which I had been left by my metro emotion. I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work "of second intensity." Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like [haiku-like] sentence: --

"The apparition of these faces in the crowd: 

Petals, on a wet, black bough."   

"I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.

(Quoted at Modern American Poetry)

Even though Pound himself saw "beautiful faces," one thing I've always loved about the poem is its ambiguity; the sense that the poet has seen something in a particular configuration, which itself is not human or industrial but is an experience without any particular value placement.  It's completely open to interpretation. 

Petals_on_a_wet_black_bough The Project:

After having a conversation with a perfumer about the possibility of using a poem to create a perfume in which the color black was of importance, the first poem that came to my mind was Pound's little haiku-like sentence. 

And then I wondered, if I were in a position to commission a fragrance and I did so by presenting the perfumer with this poem instead of a list of required notes and emotional qualities, what kind of fragrance might result?  How would some of my favorite artisans approach such a task?  How would their individual creative spirit show through in the resulting blend of aromatics?  What would each use as his or her "primary pigment," and how would a perfumer structure the blend to take advantage of some of the peculiarities of Pound's deceptively simple poem? How much would the blend differ from one perfumer to the next, and how might the poem become even more meaningful by adding these fragrant interpretations to those twenty simple words?  If numberless perfumers can come up with unique blends on the theme of "rose" or "incense," certainly this short poem would do as a possible starting point for a fantasy blend in which the cost of materials and production is unimportant and the only limitation is imagination.

I selected perfumers whom I admire for their dedication and for their obvious artistic sensibilities. Perhaps more significantly, I selected perfumers for whom I could find contact information, and whose perfumes I'd had a chance to wear and appreciate intimately.  Many of these perfumers are adept at more than one art form: some are writers, some are visual artists, and all have taken the time to craft a website we can visit in order to better understand their vision of art.  Some (like many poets) impose formal restrictions on their perfumes and I also thought this might be an interesting element in their interpretations.  In all cases, I suspected that these artists would have an understanding of expression and might be interested in the perfumery potential of a great modern poem.

I sent each perfumer Pound's verse and part of the excerpt from Pound's Gaudier-Brzeska: a Memoir quoted above, and I proposed the following:

You might think of it as a "perfume brief" from a client who only communicates in published poetry.  If you find the idea thought-provoking, perhaps you could send your thoughts on how you might go about creating this particular perfume, what notes you would be inclined to use, and how you feel your own individual artistic sensibility would be reflected in the final project. I'd be delighted with a few sentences or paragraphs; really - any participation at all would be greatly welcomed.

The answers I received were astonishing.  Each perfumer approached the project from a unique angle and several interpreted it with visual art as well as in the language of perfumery.  Several perfumers are dedicated to using only naturally-occurring aromatics, others embrace the broad palette of synthetic aromatics as well.  Seven of our perfumers even created real fragrances based on the poem, providing me with the inspiration for a wonderfully unique giveaway which will be explained shortly. 

Over the next two weeks, I will honored to present to you, dearest reader, these contributions on the theme of Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" by the following distinguished perfumers:

DecanterThe Prize:

On the final day of the project, March 31, we will give away an exquisitely rare and beautiful gift to one very fortunate reader.  Seven of our perfumers actually made the perfumes that they wrote about in this project.  These perfumes are not for sale and are experimental blends which are still "maturing" and may never go into production, and in each case the perfumer sent just one or two small vials to me as part of their contribution to the project. 

Our very lucky winner will be chosen from all the readers who leave a comment on any of the individual posts in the project from March 16-30.  The winner will be chosen via the list randomizer at random.org and will win:

The Guidelines:

  • The contest is open to anyone, all perfumers included!  If you are the winner, I will send your prize package to you via priority insured post anywhere on the planet.
  • Names for the drawing will be collected from the comments section of each post appearing between March 16-30.
  • You may comment more often for multiple chances to win, up to a maximum of five chances, though you may certainly leave more than five comments!
  • If possible, please include in your comment something substantive regarding the subject at hand.  (If you'd prefer to be included in the drawing without leaving a substantive comment, or if you have difficulty with the comment interface, please contact me.) 
  • We enthusiastically encourage comments which add to the communal enjoyment of this project, to which our perfumers generously devoted their time and creative energy.

Please join us tomorrow, March 17, for the first post in the series which will feature Mandy Aftel of Aftelier, with a unique look inside a perfumer's creative process as inspired by poetry.



Poem and Literature:

"In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound, from Poetry, April 1913.  Online text via Poetry Foundation. The current spacing of the text is from a later modification of the poem by Pound, published first in June 1913, and later in Pound's Gaudier-Brzeska: a Memoir, 1916.

Posts prior to 2015 first appeared on my previous website, memory & desire (memoryanddesire.net).


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

psp games

It was terrific reading your interpretation of the poem and I look so forward to experiencing the final fragrance. Gaucho, your new perfume based on my homeland Argentina, sounds quite inspired and lovely. Cheers to the art spirit...


Don: Thank you! Some great fragrances DID come from it - I only hope that as many of them as possible make it out into the general public. I'll devote another post in the future to the custom fragrances that were made as a result of the project, which I have had the pleasure and honor to wear over the last few weeks. They are all very different from one another, and each reveals a particular aspect of the poem.


great idea! imaginative, and I hope some great fragrances come from it.


Shelley: I sometimes read articles in which people claim that "the Humanities are useless" and "poetry won't save the world." While I can sympathize with the prioritization of other things, I do think that, in very subtle ways, our sense of creativity is exactly what propels us to save each other. We make connections between things and people and come to understand others in a way that would not otherwise be possible if it were not for the art that moves us to inspiration. It's a pleasure to meet others for whom those connections are already apparent. I do hope you will continue to enjoy what we are doing here; thank you so much for your eloquent comments.


Cara: The winner was MONICA! We announced winners in the March 31 post titled End Note, and I'll modify this post to announce her name this evening.

Shelley Ferguson

The depths of experience and exploration a creative imagination can and will and must go... I am intrigued, enticed, inspired by this project. (Wait! Is that not what a good perfume/film/poem/garden/etcetera etcetera will do???) As a thinker, I of course ponder all that is being presented, reflect, respond; as a teacher, I am thrilled to be able to present yet another example of a way a creative and clever person might apply their power; as an artist, I want to get cracking! :)

Personally, I find it revealing and rewarding that a current passion (investigating the world of perfume) ends up connecting with one of my earliest and best recognized abilities (poetry/writing); to me, the connection is clear. Well conceived. Best wishes for all that follows.


Dying to hear who won!


pavlova: I'm so happy to hear that this has been an enjoyable part of your day. You know, when you start something new, there's always that feeling of "I wonder if anyone else will like this idea?" I'm so glad (and relieved!) that others came to love it as much as I did. Thank you so much for your presence and participation here - it's great to know we're doing something that others are loving.


Each evening since the start of this magnificent and inspiring project, my husband queries..."reading about perfume again?"...."well, yes and no", I respond...it is about SO much more than perfume!! If only he knew. But, he does know not to break my spell. Heather you are an amzingly talented young woman.


Sylvia: We'll count all entries up until the normal time of posting this evening, March 31 (around 7 p.m. CST) so you're definitely entered! Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and to comment; the perfumers here deserve all the credit for allowing us a glimpse into their private world. I spoke with CB (whose Black March was inspired by a Stevie Smith poem) about this project and though he was very supportive, he didn't feel an intuitive connection with this particular poem, which I completely understand. I read a lot of poetry and the truth is, much of it doesn't stick with me. I was really lucky that this particular poem seemed to strike a chord for the perfumers who participated.


am i too late to enter? it must still be march 30th somewhere in the world! in fact, i know it is in hawaii.

i love the idea of impressionistic perfumes. en passant, angeliques sous la pluie, many in the CB i hate perfume line. the thought of wearing a fragrance that kindles a memory of another time you wore it, or a fragrance based on a memory, or in this case a poem, appeals to me greatly. it gives so much more meaning, background, depth, and feeling (!) to a fragrance. and to know exactly what the perfumer was thinking is amazing!


Jane: Thank you for supporting the project and the concept with your presence and encouragement! It's great to meet another whose two loves are perfume and poetry. I hope I'm able to continue to earn your attention in future meanderings through the worlds of each. Other projects are in the works, too, which I hope will be equally interesting to the hardcore poetry-lovers among us!


Thank you, Thank you Heather for this experiment. My two loves are poetry and scents and I came to this site thinking "how great - someone is bringing together my two interests", but this proved to be so much more. What wonderful insight into how each perfumer creates and how each uses unique combination of the 5 senses to interpret the poem. Thank you, again.


Anna: Anna that is some amazing information! Thank you so much for this fantastic comment. I will look into the Maurice Maurin study immediately. I also know nothing of Henri Bosco but I can promise I'll know a lot more about him very shortly!

I am so glad you're enjoying the project and I welcome you warmly to the site. If I could PAY them all to make the Metro fragrances, I'd do it immediately. I'm halfway hoping that some generous benefactor of the arts will have the same thought and sponsor the project so that they can all afford to develop their Metro vision in a perfume.


Just amazing!!! I am sitting non stop in front of my computer for 3 hours already (looks like there will be no dinner tonight:)) All of this - because of the note I saw on your project on Basenotes website.

Heather, such a great idea - you made me discover some perfumery names I didn't know about (I am already starting to make a wishlist on perfumes) but also a poetry name. Ezra Pound. Such a strange life, espcially the end... Thanks for those discoveries!

Your idea on using a poem for perfume brief doesn't look like totally crazy for me! This year Contest for the best Young Perfumer of Societe Francaise des Parfumeurs was using as brief quotation from Henri Bosco (http://www.parfumeur-createur.com/article.php3?id_article=129)

I was used to live in Paris for 2 years and the scent of metro is something very particular... It's difficult just to forget XXI century metro smell and imagin to Ezra Pound's metro... I wish I could :)

Did you know that there was another "metro" project in perfumery? (Probably there were several:) This one is mentioned in the book of Maurice Maurin La sagesse du createur de parfums (The wisdom of perfume creator). He did a study on "metro olfactive environment" for a project for Paris Metro!!! He mentions that before there were electrical isolations problems in the metro, and the electric arcs would cause ozone formation, and that people were regreting that previous metallic ozonic fresh metro smell, replaced by dust, rubber and animalic notes...

I started to read how perfumers percieved the project (it will take me the whole night to finish), and I am already impressed by different faces of creativity.

And if you could persuade the participants to keep Metro fragrances in their collections - that would be great!!!

Thanks again and I wish you a huge success for the remaining 2 days of the project!!!


Ruth: Thank you for your lovely comments as well as your support of the project! It has been a completely wonderful learning experience for me as well, and I've had the opportunity to find out that these are not only great artists, they are wonderful people who are really willing to engage with the people who admire them on so many levels. I can barely believe this is really happening and that I'm a part of it!

Ruth Ruane

I enjoyed this excercise immensely, it was not only a joy to read how the different perfumers interpret the poem how they approach the project creatively speaking, but it was a real learning experience.
I am studying perfumery and it was very interesting to see how other perfumers think and work and pull things together. Fantastic idea, you're a blogging genius.


Darlene: The most important thing I learned from getting to know these perfumers is that the single most important part of becoming a perfumer is just saying yes to that passion. Mandy Aftel was a successful therapist when she took the one-day workshop on making solid perfumes that changed her life. (You can read more of her story in this San Francisco Chronicle article.) I'm sure everyone goes through moments that seem more like cannonballs than swan dives, but if you're "doing it for the joy" as Ani DiFranco says, you really can't do it wrong. Thank you so much for your commentary and support here - it means a lot to these perfumers to know that people are really interested in who they are and why they do what they do.

Darlene Johnson

Hi Heather, thank you for your comment back to me. I still have so much to learn... but I've also been feeling for awhile now, like I've been just standing at the edge of this deep pool(I wanna jump in!) but.. I'm Just Swirling My toes Around...
(the water feeeels nice)
My wild passion screams...Cannon ball!
but that can be a bit of a mess sometimes.
My desire would be an elegant swan dive but I don't have that level of experience and belly flops sting! Which yes,leaves me asking myself that question....How will you ever learn to swan dive If You Never Get WET?
So Heather I've realized my toes are looking a bit prune-y hee, hee.
I think you have inspired many people here with the thought of a perfume into a poem not just me!
So Thank you!
I will make my first perfume and I think given I have always loved poetry this I believe is fitting.


Mel: Thank you! It's thrilling to see and hear and feel people responding to it in such an open, positive way. I'm really kind of proud of the readers for coming here and supporting the project; this is exactly the kind of community I want to be a part of.


This is an absolutely wonderful project. Thank you so much for organizing it! Great perfume as "news that stays news," perhaps?


JOanne: Thank you!

Lavanya: Exactly like that, once I began to explore the connections, I realized they were endless.

Darlene: I always think that our interpretations of artworks say more about us than about the art in question. Yours is both sensitive and lovely. Now you should try making the perfume!

Darlene Johnson

My interpretation of Pounds poem "In the Station at the Metro"

Pound had to pull from within the image that so profoundly touched him but the faces are just an apparition now.
Petals I feel meant an innocent beauty in the faces he saw in the crowd.
wet being a youthful dew?
black bough seems mysterious and shadowy like an old soul that has been lying quiet and dormant was suddenly awakened revealing the young man of his youth. A rebirth so to speak!


Heather: I agree- sort of like approaching the intangible through something more tangible?
This interplay between poetry and perfume is something I've always wanted to explore, as they are so naturally evocative of each other..

JOanne Lang

Great site & fantastic prize

The comments to this entry are closed.