I’m the Sheik of Araby,
Your love belongs to me.
At night when you’re asleep
Into your tent I’ll creep.
The Sheik of Araby, lyrics by Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler, music by Ted Snyder, written in 1921 in response to the popularity of Rudolph Valentino and the movie The Sheik.
This – probably silly little poem – was inspired by the tales my mother told me of how the women swooned over the actor Rudolph Valentino, even the women from the Arabic-speaking world who seemed not to have realized their beloved “Sheik” was Italian (Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella). She also told me how the streets were lined with adoring fans as Valentino’s funeral cottage passed through the city. Valentino died at 31 years of peritonitis. I included a clip from the movie at the end of this post. You can watch the whole abysmal thing on YouTube if you have an unhealthy inclination to do so.
Doe eyes stare at the waiting world
Long lashed, bright with longing, feeding
An inner vision, a secret, hers alone
Music played the strings of that heart
Magical whispers of marriage, she’d
Assume love as young people do
Predictable fantasies, the house with a white
Porch and rocker, a picket fence, a back yard
Rich dark earth, flower bedecked, fruit
Of the womb, of course, expected and roses
On birthdays, lilies at Easter, garlands in May
Christmas trees and mistletoe and other such
She watered beets on the fire escape,
Helped her mother with siblings, dreamed
Dreams gifted by movies and magazines
There, tying her boots, ready for school
Smooth the hand-me-down dress, then
Down the steps and on through the streets
Dreaming of ocean mists, oak trees
Well-groomed houses, polished rides
In horseless-carriages, easy transit
She grew old enough, hopeful enough
To dance in the jaundiced night, a ghetto-bound
Diana waiting for her Sheik, and he
Looking for his Sheba, he took her
Hand for one bright minute, then gone
To be followed by another, and each
Sheik stayed to steal her heart, rode off
With another piece of her, a souvenir of
Yearning and promise, love and gullibility
“The movies and the magazines”, she says, “they lied …”
Then whispered softly: “When Valentino died, women
lined the streets for his funeral cortége and cried … “
Rudolf Valentino as the Sheik and Agnes Ayers as Lady Diana.
“Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.” Rudolph Valentino – 1923