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.

Valentino by James Abbe

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


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