Friday, June 18, 2010

Perry Mason and John Keats

The trial is over. The murderer — who did the deed on Halloween — confessed in the courtroom. Perry Mason, Paul Drake, and Della Street sit in Mason’s office:

MASON (examining a Halloween mask)
    From the religious vigil of All Hallows’ Eve to
    murder: Halloween’s come a long way.

DRAKE (as if reciting poetry)
    Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and

STREET (a bit surprised)
    Paul, you’re reciting poetry.

DRAKE (innocently)
    Am I?

MASON (as if reciting poetry)
    But strength alone is like a fallen angel: trees
    and darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and

DRAKE (as if surprised)
    Hey, whaddaya know? Keats.
From John Keats’s “Sleep and Poetry” (1816):
But strength alone though of the Muses born
Is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn,
Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres
Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs,
And thorns of life; forgetting the great end
Of poesy, that it should be a friend
To sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man.
You can watch this scene from “The Case of the Dodging Domino” (1962) at YouTube.


May 5, 2020: John Rabe writes to point out the presence of the word burrs in the passage from Keats. “I wonder,” John writes, “if that’s what caught the scriptwriter’s eye.” And I wonder how I didn’t see the word when I made this post.

Mason (Raymond Burr) stops reciting just in time to avoid a wildly meta moment.

[This post is for my friend Rob Zseleczky, who may be happy to know that you can still find Keats on television these days.]

comments: 4

Darlene Kelley said...

Many thanks! Just watched the old Perry Mason and went in search of the poem. And there you were.

Michael Leddy said...

You must be a Me-TV viewer, eh? Me too.

Constitutional Bill said...

I too went in search after watching Perry Mason. It's actually happened more than once. This was not the characters foray into poetry. I love the show. Have seen all episodes at least twice now I think. Even with the butchering done by the network to sell another 30 seconds, it stands out as a prime example of the "golden age" of television. I like to dissect each one. It amazes me that they crammed so much into 52 minutes.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for letting me know this post was helpful.

My favorite Mason episode might be “The Case of the Bogus Books,” with a spurious first edition of Tristram Shandy. And it turns out that Mason is a Laurence Sterne fan (!). I think there have always been plenty of English majors writing our television shows.