Legion. An amalgamated journal.

Christmas smells

145. The Odour.

How sweetly doth ‘My Master’ sound! ‘My Master!’
As amber-greese leaves a rich scent
Unto the taster,
So do these words a sweet content,
An orientall fragrancie, ‘My Master.’

With these all day I do perfume my minde,
My mind ev’n thrust into them both;
That I might finde
What cordials make this curious broth,
This broth of smells, that feeds and fats my minde.

‘My Master,’ shall I speak? O that to Thee
‘My servant’ were a little so,
As flesh may be;
That these two words might creep and grow
To some degree of spicinesse to Thee!

Then should the pómander, which was before
A speaking sweet, mend by reflection,
And tell me more;
For pardon of my imperfection
Would warm and work it sweeter then before.

For when ‘My Master,’ which alone is sweet
And ev’n in my unworthinesse pleasing,
Shall call and meet,
‘My servant,’ as Thee not displeasing,
That call is but the breathing of the sweet.

This breathing would with gains, by sweetening me—
As sweet things traffick when they meet—
Return to Thee;
And so this new commerce and sweet
Should all my life employ and busie me.

George Herbert, The Poetical Works of George Herbert, Ed. Rev. A. B. Grosart, LL.D. (London: George Bell, 1892), pp. 219–220.

One thing which I suppose I will never understand is how most college stand to live with the smell of their own rooms. Walk into the typical suite and you’re likely to be greeted by an unpleasant cocktail of musty laundry, traces of urine activated by the perpetual dampness of old tile floors, and overwhelming stagnancy. It’s not a sharp smell—it doesn’t assault you. It just slowly unsettles you; it combines with the fluorescent lights to yield a sickly atmosphere.

Christmastime is indexed in my memory at least partially by its distinct smells. There’s no real way to reproduce those smells in a dorm room, as most of them are unique to warm snow on asphalt and the particular rooms of my house. Commercial air fresheners only make the situation worse by adding a chemically saccharine veneer to the bad smell of dorms.

One thing that’s easy to reproduce, however, is the pomander, a staple of elementary school arts-and-crafts curricula during December. Take an orange from a dining hall, stud it with whole cloves (easily obtainable from the spice aisle of a supermarket), and leave it to dry. It’s enough to make the cloistering darkness of December feel festively compressive rather than depressingly oppressive.

Garrett Dash Nelson

November 30th, 2008 at 7:07 pm