Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Smelly Eliot

I’ve never been a fan of T.S. Eliot. The other day, however, I was reading “Effects of Analogy,” an essay by my favorite poet, Wallace Stevens. In it, he quotes from Eliot’s Rhapsody on a Windy Night. It’s passage full of striking, if desiccated, olfactory imagery.

“. . . A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and eau de Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.”
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.


+ Q Perfume Blog said...

I love the aroma of chestnuts. if you were in facebook you would see the photos I posted of chestnuts being grilled...in my kitchen...

Avery Gilbert said...

+ Q Perfume Blog:

I like roasted chestnuts too, but I read Eliot’s line differently. [Can’t you just agree with her, for once?—Ed.] [I am. Sort of.]

Given the rest of the poem, I thought “smells of chestnuts in the streets” referred to the, uh, shall we say, somewhat semen/spermy note of blossoming chestnut trees. [Do you have to sexualize every comment from +Q Perfume Blog?—Ed.] [No. She started it!]

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a description of the smell in Japan.

And here’s a tastefully restrained account from the American Chestnut Foundation:

How to identify American chestnut trees

Chestnut trees are most easily located while they are in full bloom, from early June, in the southern part of the range, to the weeks around the Fourth of July in the North. The great mass of conspicuous white catkins on larger trees is visible at great distances. The odor of the blooms is also quite distinctive, especially on still mornings and evenings.

Guerilla Perfumer said...

I do not know the poem but he could be referring to roasting of chestnuts in the context of sex ( a bit of AG and a bit of Q), a streetwalker in fall/winter will smell the roast before trapped amine smells within the shuttered rooms of a bordello...just a guess.

Avery Gilbert said...

Guerilla Perfumer:

I think you're onto something with the bordello. So I'll push my thesis a bit harder (sorry, +Q!).

The poem's settings are interior: shuttered rooms, corridors, bars.

Its smells are those of human effluvia trapped indoors: female smells, cigarettes, cocktail smells, dust, dry geraniums, old nocturnal smells, female smells.

Ergo, "smells of chestnuts in the streets" more likely to be spermacious than roasted.

Finally: chestnuts roasted-in-the-street usually smell of charcoal braziers, at least in New York.

+ Q Perfume Blog said...

Like Freud would say "sometimes cigar is just a cigar..."
So chestnuts were just chestnuts...but if you would like it to be chest & nuts, no problemo! As long as it doesn't get you mad to a point of talking to yourself...pretending it is ED...I would accept a freudian concept of ID thou...basic instinctual drives...we can play Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone...hummm
in a way, it is all about sex... ;-)