Helen & The Dragon’s Breath

On January 16, 1878, just five months before her death, Sarah Helen Whitman wrote to her English correspondent John Henry Ingram after moving into the home of her friends on Bowen Street where they would care for their elderly houseguest. In describing her room to Ingram, Helen said: “My bronze censer from the palace of the Emperor of Peking breathes myrrh & sandalwood from its dragon’s mouth, whenever the company in the parlor below wishes to be ‘drowsed in the Orient’s dusky thought.’” 

I figured it’d be appropriate to find my own little bronze censer with a dragon’s mouth to breath out the smoke. I also found myrrh and sandalwood incense that contains orris root, a scent in which Poe said brought him back to his childhood. Orris root was often put in linen drawers to add a pleasant scent to clothes, and Poe’s foster mother, Frances Allan, would often do this. Orris root always reminded him of the only mother he really knew from his childhood.

It’s an experience, at the very least, to share in some of these material things that they’ve also shared in, since we’ll never get to meet them here in the flesh on this mortal rock.

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