Scent Sample Sunday: Dryad

I first learned about dryads from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, books I dearly loved as a child and still love. Dryads are tree spirits, nymphs who personify trees and may inhabit them. They are benign pagan beings, female, and sometimes referred to as “wood-women” in Narnia. In the Narnia books, Lewis describes both male and female tree spirits, but he only uses “dryad” to refer to female spirits. Dryads, when they appear in human form, take on the characteristics of the particular trees they inhabit: birch-girls in silver, beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow.”

Illustration of a dryad tree nymph by Arthur Rackham.

Dryad, by Arthur Rackham, 1913.

Papillon Artisan Perfumes’ Liz Moores has conjured up a bewitching, witchy green perfume in her 2017 creation, Dryad. I have a great love for green scents, as well as the florals I love, and this nymph has won my heart. From the Papillon website:

As vibrant emerald Galbanum weaves with the delicate flesh of Bergamot, the nomadic wanderings of Dryad begin.

Beneath jade canopies, sweet-herbed Narcissus nestles with gilded Jonquil. Shadows of Apricot and Cedrat morph radiant greens to a soft golden glow.

Earthed within the ochre roots of Benzoin, heady Oakmoss entwines with deep Vetiver hues.

And at its heart, the slick skin of Costus beckons you further into the forest…

And into the forest I happily go! Papillon lists the notes as follows: Narcissus, Oakmoss, Jonquil, Cedrat, Galbanum, Benzoin, Vetiver. The narcissus and jonquil notes are very evident at the start, but the galbanum (a green resin) is right there with them, giving a sharpness in contrast to the floral notes, as if to remind us that there are no living flowers without green stems and leaves. Dryad does not evoke a bouquet or still life of cut flowers — far from it. It smells like a tree come to life — a vibrant, dynamic being with unpredictable movement. This nymph dances.

Green nymph Fantasia

Image from Disney’s Fantasia 2000

As it dries down, Dryad brings out more and more of the oakmoss, the cedar, and the benzoin, which happens to be an oil extracted from a specific kind of tree. The word “dryad” comes from the ancient Greek word for oak, so oakmoss also fits right in. Honestly, this fragrance is so clever as well as lovely! As I had hoped when Dryad‘s launch was announced, this fragrance is GREEN as well as being a chypre. If you hate Chanel No. 19, for instance, you may want to keep your distance. Even the bergamot mentioned in the website copy is a green citrus, not a sweet one. Despite several wood-related notes, though, Dryad never feels “woody” to me.

This is a potent potion; one small spritz on each of my wrists, and I happily smelled it wafting up to my nose all evening. I don’t think it carries very far away from me, i.e. sillage is moderate, but it lasts for several hours. The more it dries down, the more I detect a faint sweetness; the sharper edge of the opening stage has softened. The whole progression has a vintage vibe, but the fragrance is thoroughly modern and unisex.

Dryad is perfect for the cool, sunny fall days we are having now, with the nights that approach, but do not quite reach, frost. While doing some research for this post, I found a poem that C.S. Lewis wrote in the 1940s, before the Narnia books. It describes a magician forcing a dryad to leave her tree and take human form, which she experiences as a prison; he releases her to return to her tree, but the tree’s leaves fall and it will wither and die. Dryad is not a sad or withering scent, just as fall is not a season of death. Trees lose their leaves in the fall so they can slumber through the winter, and awake afresh in the spring, bursting into green with the daffodils. So Lewis’ poem is not quite apropos here, but I’ll share it anyway, and borrow some of his words:

She drank
With thirst of myriad mouths the bursting cataracts of the sun,
The drizzle of gentler stars, and indivisible small rain.
Wading the dark earth, made of earth and light, cradled in air …

This Dryad does indeed embrace the sun, the rain, the dark earth, and the green air of an ancient forest, like the New Forest where she was born. And even when she slumbers, the promise of her reawakening lies beneath the surface.

Mud Maid sculpture in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

Mud Maid, the Lost Gardens of Heligan

MAGICIAN
Out of your dim felicity of leaves, oh Nymph appear,
answer me in soft-showery voice, attempt the unrooted dance
–My art shall sponsor the enormity. Now concentrate,
Around, where in your vegetative heart it drowses deep
In seminal sleep, your feminine response. Conjuro te
Per Hecates essentiam et noctis silentia,

Breaking by Trivia’s name your prison of bark. Beautiful, awake.

DRYAD
Risen from the deep lake of my liberty, into your prison
She has come, cruel commander.

MAGICIAN
I have given speech to the dumb.
Will you not thank me, silver lady?

DRYAD
Oh till now she drank
With thirst of myriad mouths the bursting cataracts of the sun,
The drizzle of gentler stars, and indivisible small rain.
Wading the dark earth, made of earth and light, cradled in air,
All that she was, she was all over. Now the mask you call
A Face has blotted out the ambient hemisphere’s embrace;
Her light is screwed into twin nodules of tormenting sight;
Searing divisions tear her into five. She cannot hear
But only see, the moon; earth has no taste; she cannot breathe
at every branch vibrations of the sky. For a dome of severance,
A helmet, a dark, rigid box of bone, has overwhelmed
Her hair…that was her lungs…that was her nerves…that kissed the air.
Crushed in a brain, her thought that circled cooly in every vein
Turns into poison, thickens like a man’s, ferments and burns.
She was at peace when she was in her unity. Oh now release
And let her out into the seamless world, make her forget.

MAGICIAN
Be free. Relapse. And so she vanishes. And now the tree
Grows barer every moment. The leaves fall. A killing air,
Sighing from the country of Man, has withered it. The tree will die.

~C.S. Lewis, “The Magician and the Dryad”, Poems (1964)

4 thoughts on “Scent Sample Sunday: Dryad

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