The poetry of smell

We are carrying out a mission to try to restore the dignity to the sense of smell. Here it helps to remember that this sense has been celebrated, historically, in the arts and literature for ages. 

In the written word, whether in verse or prose, references to smells are always harbingers of messages and sensations. It is difficult to speak of a perfume, or on the contrary of an odor, without a mood or a memory, connected to this detail.

In an interview dedicated to olfactory scenarios, the writer Giovanna Zucconi says: "Perfumes are used to evoke places, to portray characters, to touch the strings of emotion". At times, therefore, they are used by artists as a literary device to describe something that otherwise cannot be communicated.

Let's take a well-known example, which even those who do not come from literary studies will likely know: Proust's infamous madeleine. Here we have the memory that associates a perfume with a specific object which evokes a moment in the life of the protagonist in the 19th/20th century French author's book In Search of Lost Time.  How many times have we also clashed with our personal madeleine, which can be a food, a drink, but also not necessarily something you eat. To offer a personal example, the smell of osmanthus that blooms at the beginning of autumn, reminds me of the first month of school, when we left early in the morning and ran to catch the bus. To offer a well-known example, Andrea Camilleri in his engaging books often uses references to people's scents also to emphasize details of their character or their physical appearance. Busty women with voluptuous perfumes, dishonest lawyers who emanate annoyingly sweetish odors.

Digging back a little in time, but not too much, we have an entire work that talks about perfume and obsession, and it is, in fact, Patrick Suskind's Perfume. There is little sweet in this story, apart from the devastating effects that perfumes can have on the human psyche. The protagonist is an odorless being but who possesses a very powerful sense of smell, and who dedicates his life wrought with sacrifice, harassment and crime, in search of the perfect, intoxicating perfume, to control all who smell it into losing all inhibition. I don't want to add other details which might spoil this interesting read, but the way in which the sense of smell is treated in this work that is slightly poised between the thriller genre and that of a deformation novel, is sublime.

Shakespeare was also a great admirer and user of olfactory references; in almost all his writings there is a nod to a perfume. Among them, some of his favorites were thyme, rosemary, fig, vanilla. Just think of how many parks around the world dedicated to Shakespeare contain at least one of these plants. Italy's Gabriele D’Annunzio seems to have taken inspiration from Shakespeare in his own writing, often winking at the nose and its potential; the masterpiece The Rain in the Pinewood is a riot of tributes to all the senses, but first and foremost that of the nose. The reader can't help but notice the smells that the poem tends to evoke in his head as he reads or listens to those verses.

We are therefore not inventing anything new with our work; the sense of smell has a place over time that has its roots since the days of Aristophanes. We therefore consider it right to carry on, in our own way, the literature that concerns him.


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