Arsenic and Old Lace

For Laura’s dVerse Meeting the Bar prompt “of poetry craft and critique, ‘to turn again, about turn again‘ we are employing the device of ‘epiphora/epistrophe’ which makes use of consecutive end line repeats of words or phrases. The optional extra is ‘Symploce’ – a consecutive repeat of first and final words.”

Laura points out that ‘epiphora’ is also “a medical term for excess tear production,” which can result from both comedy and tragedy. And so I have incorporated quotes from the classic Frank Capra film, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” to write a farce and an omen, reflecting perhaps something of the state of the world today.

In Melbourne one night I dreamed of you
Cold-eyed in June with summer roses hanging tough
Knew I’d meet you when the four horsemen rode
With plague and famine and war on their hooves
With plague-driven carts bouncing off their hooves.

The Brewster sisters? They’re like, they’re like pressed rose leaves
If you only knew the insanity beneath the lace
You’d crumble like a cinnamon coffee-cake
Only don’t tell them you’re unhappy
Not a whisper about being unhappy
My dear, there’ll be poison in the elderberry wine.

I’m not a cab driver I’m a coffee pot, who are you?
I’m not a Brewster, I’m adopted, pull up a tombstone
All I did was cross the bridge and I was in Brooklyn
Is it too much to ask you to stay with me, just follow along
You’ll get it and CHAAARGE!!! there won’t be any doubt
Operator, get me Happy Dale, and Niagara Falls? Well, let it!

The more you struggle, Mortimer, the more you strangle yourself
Sure, Dr. Einstein, just don’t watch any more Boris Karloff movies
Sure, sure, but Jonny, not the Melbourne Method, two hours!
And there are bodies in the cellar, hundreds, just one in the window seat
Can you see them yet as they linger in their rose-leaved unhappy rest?
Can you see the four horsemen riding over the crest?

All italicized content in the text are quotations from the black comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944) directed by Frank Capra, screenplay by Julius and Phillip Epstein.

The four horsemen of the apocalypse are a reference to Revelation, chapter 6.

36 thoughts on “Arsenic and Old Lace

  1. Brings back wonderful memories. My wife and I were in this play in high school nearly 50 years ago… and it was the beginning of some very, very wonderful.

    Added blessing, I’ve never wondered whether she might be secretly poisoning me…


    1. Rob,
      Oh what sweet memories, and all the richer for the love that grew alongside them! My husband and I met in a college class on medieval literature. I imagine he counts it a blessing I’m not much like Chaucer’s Wife of Bath! Well he should …. 😉


  2. a fabulous finale in that couplet which revolves back to the first stanza – and your repeats are well hidden so that they do not intrude. This whole comic opera is laced with some lovely lines:
    “If you only knew the insanity beneath the lace
    You’d crumble like a cinnamon coffee-cake
    Only don’t tell them you’re unhappy”


    1. Laura,
      I’m glad you enjoyed what is undoubtedly due to your own fabulous prompt. Thank you for the inspiration and your wonderful comments.


    1. Phillip,
      I hope you do. It’s probably the only movie with both Peter Lorre and Cary Grant sharing the screen, and it’s a hoot! Thank you for your kind comments.


  3. They used to play old movies on TV on Sunday afternoons when I was growing up in Melbourne – and remember seeing Arsenic and Old Lace one rainy afternoon and loving it! Brilliant tribute, makes me want to want to watch it again.


  4. I have never seen the movie, but I have recently listened to a podcast where the sinister serial killing of Amy Archer-Gilligan was said to be the real inspiration behind the play (and the movie)… So interesting that it could be made into a dark comedy… your poem with the reference to the riders of the apocalypse is probably closer to reality, though I would probably tie it to the deadly sin of greed.


    1. Björn,
      Just looked up the Archer-Gilligan case and it is bone-chilling with not a whiff of humor about it which makes it all the more amazing that the play and movie sprung from it. Poetic license can make elderberry wine out of strychnine soup! I agree with you that the apocalyptic four horsemen are more in tune with the reality of the inspiration. I’d like to flatter myself and think I divined it in some intuitive fashion but I won’t. ;>) Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments.


    1. Michele,
      From what I’ve read, Grant hated his over-the-top performance here. It really didn’t fit his later image, something Hitchcock on the other hand knew how to take advantage of very well. Glad you enjoyed the verse though! Thank you for reading!


  5. I think I’ve watched every Cary Grant movie and this was one of his best! Including the movie quotes is so creative. It really is a commentary on the madness we see today, isn’t it?


    1. Tricia,
      I began to see that only after setting the quotes out and into context, then looking at the sum of the parts and realizing the darkness in the plot seemed too familiar. It’s hard not to enjoy the movie — Cary Grant may have hated his performance in it but his roots in vaudeville really play well in it. Thank you for reading! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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