Some time ago my wife lost her sense of smell. Nothing to do with Covid: it seems the condition, known as anosmia, can strike without apparent cause: sometimes the sense spontaneously comes back after a while, but in this case it hasn’t. But at least, unlike many Covid victims who have suffered the same fate, she can still taste things as normal.
Naturally I provide such husbandly comfort as I can, pointing out, for example, how much worse it would be for her if she were a dog. And I suspect most would agree that if you are going to lose one of your senses, smell is the one you are going to miss least. Even so, I find it a bit sad, when I think of all the odours that have given me pleasure in life, and continue to do so. And it has moved me to reflect that the sense of smell is really very little celebrated in poetry; in fact I have failed to think offhand of any poem in which it can be said to take centre stage, which has reduced me to presenting one of my own as this week’s offering…
Tonight the rain in summer dark
Releases scents of leaf and bark:
The fumy reek of resined trees
And currant’s sweet acridities.
Those aromatic compounds fit
Some membranous receptive pit
And trigger in my waiting brain
The memory of other rain.
I learnt my seasons from no class:
My summers were wild rose and grass,
A velveted and honeyed air.
Tonight I know: the past is there
And lies, so little does it need
To live again, in bush and weed
A yard or two beyond my door.
I am the child I was before.
Odours of earth, like love they came
Before the word, before the name.
The gates of time swing wide for these
Primaeval analeptic keys.
Then let me keep, though all depart,
These strange familiars from my start:
As in my first, in my last air,
Most potent molecules, be there.