In 1857, French poet Charles Baudelaire published a collection of poems titled Les Fleurs du mal, or The Flowers of Evil. The poems are filled with sultry themes like eroticism, and proved too risqué for the times. In fact, not only were six of the poems banned for almost a century, Baudelaire was tried alongside his publisher for releasing poems that outraged public decency.
Lucky for us, Les Fleurs du mal in today’s context is a celebrated example of modern poetry. Its poems explicitly explore passion in a way that many current audience members embrace, viewing it through tools such as memory and scent.
Having been a student of both literature and the French language, I crossed paths with Baudelaire several times in college. But his works never quite hooked me like the works of some other French writers. I felt like the timing wasn’t right, as is often the case.
I’m not sure if I’m in love with his writing yet, but I have rekindled an interest in his poems. This started when I read a reference to him in the book “Essence and Alchemy” by Mandy Aftel. She writes about him several times, describing him as a poet who was willing to “write about erotic scent in an entirely frank way.” I turned back to Les Fleurs du mal to find poems referencing perfume in passionate contexts. For instance, in the piece “Lethe,” which was one of the six banned poems, Baudelaire writes about seeking refuge in the presence of an old lover, saying:
If I would swallow down my softened sobs
It must be in your bed’s profound abyss—
And earlier, he references the solace of his lover’s natural scent:
I want to hide the throbbing of my head
In your perfume, under those petticoats,
And breathe the musky scent of our old love,
The fading fragrance of the dying rose.
Much of the perfume that Baudelaire speaks of in Les Fleurs du mal is the natural scent unique to each human. To him, these perfumes evoke memories, passions, and comfort—as many scents do with me and probably you as well.
The love for a person’s natural perfume, be it your own or another’s, is a theme that has been embraced many times by the honest poet. And if you ask me, Baudelaire wasn’t the first. When Aftel praises Baudelaire for his daring mention of body scent in an sensual context, I feel that she fails to acknowledge another poet who was exploring this idea before Les Fleurs du mal was released. In his long, rambling, totally inspired poem “Song of Myself,” published in 1855, Walt Whitman makes several mentions of the arousing effects of body odor. One particularly famous line is “The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer,” but that’s just one modest example.
I have more to say about scent and perfume in the context of “Song of Myself,” but I’ll save that for another post. For now I just want to praise the Possets scent Jeanne DuVal Mistress of Charles Baudelaire. If you’ve dreamt of a way to balance the potent, natural bodily scent with a sweet, wearable bottled perfume, this is it. Rather than encouraging the wearer to cover up their own smell, as aggressively sweat and powdery perfumes might do, Jeanne DuVal Mistress of Charles Baudelaire pays homage to the subject of many of Baudalaire’s poems by balancing musky, earthy, and sexy in one bottle. It seems to be just the type of balance that Fabienne had in mind when she created this blend in honor of Jeanne DuVal, and it does well to mimic the natural scent that turned on this French poet again and again.