My Back Pages: Scent and Sound in John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”


When I was writing my recent review of LUSH’s Tender is the Night massage bar (scented with jasmine, ylang ylang, and vanilla!) I looked up John Keats’s poem “Ode to a Nightingale” in order to refresh my memory about the phrase that gives this product its name. Well, LUSH actually names F. Scott Fitzgerald as the source, but he was borrowing from Keats!

“…tender is the night,
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays…”

And here is my favorite part of the poem, the fifth stanza. It evokes the scents of an early-summer night in lush (and detailed) language:

“I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
         Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
                        And mid-May’s eldest child,
         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.”

You can read the whole poem here.
Image: illustration by W. J. Neatby (1899), via Wikimedia.

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