myth and poetry

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Matter & Beauty
Mythopoetry Scholar Ezine

"A Formula For Perfume" (1)
-Stephanie Pope

It is somewhat of a surprise to discover the essential thing in a scent of speech is something of a blind spot. One will never see it―a world made to be seen that also can’t be seen!  It can’t be seen but it also must be. To lose touch with an aesthetic sense is to have lost touch with an essential thing-that-is-no-thing! It is this that is most compelling: that the essential thing in a scent of speech is not in one, one is in it all along.

Talk to me, Muse, in the being of a shade. Speak in the wholly world showing itself in a scent behind a shoot of leaves. Evergreen? Yes. But, no. Not a tree and… not a tree is speaking. Talk to me between the shade of a cloud and a shrub. Surprise me.

And so did my muse do just this on that first day it rained in the valley of the sun, I having come to live in Arizona fifteen years ago creosote bush from an Ohio lifetime born and bred. People talk of saguaros and agaves, diamond backs, tarantulas and scorpions. But they fail to mention how in the desert a single cloud is shade. And they fail to mention how, when cloud piles upon cloud, shade upon shade and rain begins, it is the unique scent of the creosote bush that gives a silent desert air its rhythmic metaphors. There is a desert rain in a scent of speech pressed to me. There is freshness in the word, sentient vegetative soul, living growth in the air; a sprung rhythm, an image soul released from vegetative matter’s body.

“When we smell something,” writes James Hillman, “we are taking in its spirit… the phenomenon that comes with a smell comes from the underworld, calling for an intense psychic acuity to discern its nature… where the image soul leaves the body’s matter.”(2)  

Begin here, in the image soul that senses itself. Begin as if ego soul has already vanished into a wider, uninhabited, unseen dimension. Begin as if image-soul rose vapor-like in another more vital than formal way; a way that, as Brad Olson suggests in his wonderful essay, “Why Poetry Matters”, begins taking leave because “leave-taking is the central action in life and is essential to the soul’s greater awareness of itself.” (3)  Begin as if one going away who glances backward over their shoulder for that look that will outlast them.  Learn to live turned around. Catch sight of a world the way it's expressing itself. Let it take your breath away. Vanish into it. Begin.

Begin where the mind ends and the memory, already active in the soul of the world, worlds. “…a whiff of perfume or even the slightest odor can create an entire environment in the world of the imagination,” affirms Bachelard. (4)  "In conspectu mortis," says Jung. (5)  

In conspectu mortis seems to me the taking on of the attitude of the muse that inspires it. These attitudes are neither true nor false but expressions of psychic reality that you attempt to acquire a psychological nose for recognizing. And so, you sniff the air; you take in this spirit. You become in-spired by it and try to see the way it's showing itself to you. The way this happens is the way you will go on to live your life forward because this knowing has given itself to you from the soul of the world itself.

Jung may have truly caught the scents and sense of in conspectu mortis in the anima mundi, the world's "soul-making" and the formula for how to keep living life forward long after it stops making sense to us in the moment in which we find ourselves. The sense will come again to each of us as we look back on our lives. But, living "now" always first has to do with embracing the way life is getting to be. This is my sense for the "greater awareness" in Brad Olson's "leave-taking". In conspectu mortis is a poetic matter, an aesthesis through which the world seizes us by our sense perceptions and takes us down and in to experience the reality of the world through the imaginal dimension. Or, said another way, the creative matter in poetry's mattering is a psychogenetic one.

Did Jung know the muses of Greek antiquity were linked to three images: the image of goddesses, the image of spiral movement and clouds? (6) Imagine! Shade upon shade, where the image soul leaves the body’s matter sensed through the spirit, the vapors and hues of musing life, a creative energy wells up from deep within the nowhere of the world’s imaginal dimension. Can one suppose an image soul will leave a body’s matter to take on soul and body the way such realities really matter? For me, the blue-green scent pressed and released here between the rain and the desert creosote will continue to teach me, in conspectu mortis. Here is one more thing I learned from the desert raining in my blind spot.
The Sonoran desert greens before your very eyes during a rain and the green is fresh as spring is green and grey as metal greened in bluish tints. Something flashes in the air. It instantly happens. You are struck by it. You don’t expect it... a scent happens. It fills the desert air. I really like the term glaucescence for this experience. The one term carries an image paradox for it means both a reddening of eyes from the blinding blue-white intensity of too much desert light and a clouding over of eyes in an undergoing.

The word comes from a Greek word used to describe the phenomenon of a metamorphoses happening before your very eyes. The phenomenon could be said of eyes themselves undergoing a change in vision like happens in glaucoma when eyes cover over with a cloudy film and seem themselves half hidden behind a cloud. But one could also infer here a change in perspective underway and the change seen in the eyes has signaled a psychological revisioning.  Eyes, the windows into soul-making, are themselves outward-signaling bringers to the instinctually bodied notice the intuited metamorphoses underway. (7)

Particularly, glaucescence is used in antiquity in reference to Athene’s eyes and the moon shadow the way it appears white and greyish mottled against the light blue background of a day-world sky…and the owl’s third eyelid, a nictitating membrane which, in humans is that fleshy pink “corner” of the eye out of which, along with our seeing, helps to keep our eyelids moist. Not only does glaucescence signal a wetting of the desert's dry turn at the corner or edge or threshold where the sense organs have gone into action,(8) but after reading a lot about the early usage and translation of this word, I think of it in having experienced the aesthetic sense where an image soul leaves the body’s matter and there is this intuited experience of a scent gleaming in the being of a shade as if to signal a re-visioning of something in the fresh sense of my own perspective. (9) I don’t think of it as the remembering of a fact that something happened, rather as in the valuing of what goes on happening in the space left open behind the waking poetic imagination opened here in the hiatus of the metaphor. I imagine it is the thing-that-is-no-thing, the aesthetic sense, representing itself to the mind.

Bachelard muses that a poet, in whose inner life where color and form speak, having become hyper-alert to it, may have begun to hear in a region beyond perception. (10) And, says Bachelard, “in works of poetic imagination even the values ‘bear the mark of such novelty’ that everything related to the past, is lifeless.” Facts do not explain the value of a memory. But, also, even the value undergoes reimagining. Not mimesis―poieses; in the being of its shade glaucescence, the bright, understanding, on-going light of the material imagination.

James Hillman understands Heraclitus to say the subtle vapor of an old event in our memories is worth more having risen anew from dying matter. (11)  Springing green is as a shoot of leaves, and perhaps, in pun, an attitude in leave-taking, in conspectu mortis.  Here is one more example. This one comes from the movie, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons.” (12) The body of Benjamin at birth is born old but at the end of his life, his body has taken on in its attitude of leave-taking the form of an infant. Birth for death and death for birth is the mytheme giving to the movie its creative juice and giving to its images, image-liveliness. The ambivalence the image arouses announces the creative and paradoxical nature in "springing" or as a leap down and in is to a sudden release up and such inner "leaping" is in escorting "in” to the door.

Having entered the turn; neither inside nor outside the word, life is as simple as an odor en poieses. And, because the word is “poieses” and the word is the formula, it is only fitting I should allow poetry the last word.

He went among the blue river/casting it in the summary of a/brush stroke…/and paints mixed, creamy/with impressions of where/mind and matter spent/themselves in arias/of noble smells (13)

                                                  -Dennis Patrick Slattery, Painted Perceptions


1. “In the depths of matter there grows an obscure vegetation; black flowers bloom in matter’s darkness. They already possess a velvety touch, a formula for perfume.” (Bachelard, Gaston. Water And Dreams: An Essay On the Imagination of Water. Edith Farrell, trans.. Texas: Dallas Institute of the Humanities, Pegasus Foundation, 1983, p. viii.

2. Hillman, James. The Dream And The Underworld, New York: HarperPerennial, 1979. p. 187.  

3.  Olson, Brad PhD. Falstaff Was My Tutor Blogspot: “Why Poetry Matters”, October 19, 2010 .  November 19, 2010.

4. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1992, p 174.

5. Jung will refer to in conspectu mortis as a ‘form of being’ in which our birth is a death and our death a birth. This image is exactly the mythoi presented in the movie, “A Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons.” Jung calls such vantage point a ‘vision of the world’ outside history and the territorialisms of time encapsulate spaces. One is pushed into the wider, uninhabited dimension. (The Wisdom of Carl Jung. Edited by Edward Hoffman. New York: Citadel Press, 2003, p.182.)

6. Kerényi, Carl. The Gods of the Greeks. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1980, p 104.

7. In Christs: Meditations on Archetypal Images in Christian Theology, (New York: Seabury, 1981, pp. 73-4) David L. Miller says it this way: “The nose functions to keep us in touch with psyche, with soul…the psychological “nose” may help us to get some intuition and instinct, some soul and body, into our thinking and feeling.”

8. Bachelard,  Ibid.

9. Maxwell-Stuart, P.G.. Studies In Greek Colour Terminology vol 1. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1981, pp. 107-146.

10.  Bachelard, Ibid.

11. Hillman, James. Dream, pp. 186-87. 

12. I'm thinking of the great line from the second movie trailer introducing the movie. "Life can only be understood backward; it must be lived forward." ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons", David Fincher, director; Eric Roth writer, starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Stone, released December 25, 2008. trailer accessed November 25, 2010;      

13. Slattery, Dennis Patrick and Chris Paris. The Beauty Between Words: Selected Poems. New York: Waterforest Press, 2010, p. 26.

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Stephanie Pope, mythopoetAuthor Bio
Stephanie Pope is editor and publisher of Mythopoetry Scholar.

With depth perspectives in literature and in life in mind, cultural mythologer and mythopoet, Stephanie teaches and publishes on line through

Recipient of Pushcart nominations for poetry in 2007-2010, Stephanie's poetry is published in numerous poetry journals and digests.

With "Like A Woman Falling: Selected Poems" (Scottsdale: Mythic Artist Press, 2004) to her credit, she is currently writing a book of essays around the mythic image of the full moon and its influence.

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