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.
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 another 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.
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:
- Monday, March 17 - Mandy Aftel - Aftelier
- Tuesday, March 18 - Lisa Fong - Artemisia Natural Perfume
- Wednesday, March 19 - Yosh Han - Yosh Olfactory Sense
- Thursday, March 20 - Dawn Spencer Hurwitz - DSH Perfumes
- Friday, March 21 - Rachel Jones - Virtue and Valor
- Saturday, March 22 - Vero Kern - vero.profumo
- Sunday, March 23 - Christophe Laudamiel - IFF, S-Perfume, and Les Christophs
- Monday, March 24 - Anya McCoy - Anya's Garden
- Tuesday, March 25 - Ineke Ruhland - Ineke * Perfumer * San Francisco
- Wednesday, March 26 - Ayala Sender - Ayala Moriel Parfums
- Thursday, March 27 - Michael Storer - Michael Storer Fine Fragrances
- Friday, March 28 - Andy Tauer - Tauer Perfumes
- Saturday, March 29 - Roxana Villa - Illuminated Perfumes
- Sunday, March 30 - Liz Zorn - Liz Zorn Perfumes
- Monday, March 31 - Retrospective Article and Giveaway
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:
- All SEVEN of the unreleased experimental perfumes based on "In a Station of the Metro" by:
- as well as samples of:
- Mandy Aftel - Aftelier Parfum Prive
- Yosh Han - U4EAHH! 2.43 perfume
- Rachel Jones - Virtue and Valor - Virtuessence of Esther perfume
- Vero Kern - vero.profumo - Onda perfume
- Christophe Laudamiel for Harry Slatkin & Co. - Black Fig & Absinthe eau de parfum
- Ineke Ruhland - Ineke Perfumer - Evening Edged in Gold eau de parfum
- Roxana Villa - Illuminated Perfumes - Lyra perfume
- Six surprise samples from our among our perfumers' creations
- All vials will be housed in a beautiful Japanese box, and will be accompanied by a copy of one of my favorite books, A Book of Luminous Things, an anthology of international poetry edited by Czeslaw Milosz.
- 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.
- "Classic Art Nouveau Metro Sign at Odeon Metro Station, Paris, France" by Glenn Beanland, via AllPosters.com
- "Entrance to the Metro at Abbesses, Montmartre, Paris, France" by Jean Brooks, via AllPosters.com
- Photo of Ezra Pound via Steve Lane's site on "Hemingway's Paris" at Malaspina University-College
- "Petals on a wet, black bough" via Flickr by SodaO/Nick Burns. Used by permission of the artist.
- Wall painting of girl pouring perfume into a vial, Roman, 1st Century BCE, via McManus Images
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.