March 19th, 2010

Birthday greeting from Arabia
via Orson Welles and
the other Richard Burton

Friend and poet Michael Gushue reports this alleged lost scene from the Citizen Kane script:

Kane stands with his butler/factotum, Raymond in the family tomb. His only son, Charles Foster Kane II, is dead at the age of 31. The year is 1938, and workmen are setting a slab on the grave.

After they leave, Kane looks at the simple inscriptions on the crypts of his father, mother and son.

Above the blank space reserved for him, is an inscription on an ornate, ancient wall imported from Persia.

Kane translates for Raymond (bored and couldn’t care less):

The drunkenness of youth
Has passed like a fever
And yet I saw many things
Seeing my glory in the days of my glory

I thought my power eternal
And the days of my life
Fixed surely in the years
But a whisper came to me
From Him who dies not

I called my tributary kings together
And those who were proud rulers under me
I opened the boxes of my treasure to them, saying
“Take hills of gold, mountains of silver
And give me one more day upon the earth”

But they stood silent
Looking upon the ground
So that I died
And Death came to sit upon my throne

O sons of men
You see a stranger upon the road
You call to him and he does not stop
He is your life
Walking towards time
Hurrying to meet the kings of India and China

O sons of men
You are caught in the web of the world
And the spider
Nothing waits behind it

Where are the men with towering hopes?
They have changed places with owls
Owls who lived in tombs
And now inhabit a palace

We live in affluence
And are blind to where we are

Our concerns and feuds
Fill our time every day

You must ask yourself
What is the worth?

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13 comments

  1. ed says:

    Michael G speculates that Orson Welles lifted this, in turn, from Sir Richard Burton, the explorer & explicator.

    And Burton may have been doing free translation out of 1001 Nights or something more obscure.

    March 21st, 2010 at 3:59 pm

  2. Ilidas says:

    First, the photos are lovely. They cause me to imagine sitting by a pool in a palace of Isfahan or Shiraz, with almond eyed ladies padding about nearby, barefoot on the tiled floors.

    So the provenance of the text is not (yet)established with certainty. It is quite haunting.

    I haven’t read about Burton since my youth — he traveled through the Horn of Africa, as I recall.

    March 22nd, 2010 at 2:16 pm

  3. Ed says:

    Aha, yes, the photos, eh?

    All from new Dubai. Perhaps the strangest city on the planet at the moment.

    March 22nd, 2010 at 10:56 pm

  4. Michael Gushue says:

    The Burton link is purely conjectural, since the poem reminded me of Burton’s Kasidah written under the pseudonym Haji Abdu El-Yezdi.
    Text here: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/6036.

    But the poem quoted in your post is better.

    The lines

    “They have changed places with owls,/Owls who lived in tombs/And now inhabit a palace.”

    haunt me.

    March 23rd, 2010 at 9:11 pm

  5. ed says:

    Aha. I hadn’t realized the Burton idea was pure conjecture.

    Looked at the Kasidah. I’d say it’s a bit more English than the thing you’ve brought to light out of the Kane script.

    A mystery to pursue when time permits.

    March 24th, 2010 at 11:29 am

  6. Michael Gushue says:

    Ah. This is from one of the CK shooting scripts–the one found online. Though this doesn’t secure authorship at all. In fact expands it to possibly include Herman Mankiewicz.

    DISSOLVE

    INT. KANE’S CHAPEL – XANADU – LATE AFTERNOON – 1939

    As the dissolve completes itself, camera is travelling across the floor of the chapel past the crypts of Kane’s father and mother – (marked: James Kane – 18- TO 19-; Mary Kane – 18- TO 19-;) – past a blank crypt, and then holding on the burial of Kane’s son.

    A group of ordinary workmen in ordinary clothes are lowering a very expensive-looking coffin into its crypt. Kane stands nearby with Raymond, looking on. The men strain and grunt as the coffin bangs on the stone floor. The men now place over it a long marble slab on which is cut the words:

    CHARLES FOSTER KANE II. 1907 – 1938

    ONE OF THE WORKMEN
    Sorry, Mr. Kane, we won’t be able to cement it till tomorrow. We -

    Kane looks right through him. Raymond cuts him short.

    RAYMOND
    Okay.

    The men tip their hats and shuffle out of the chapel.

    Kane raises his head, looks at the inscription on the wall. It is a little to one side of Junior’s grave, directly over the blank place which will be occupied by Kane himself.

    KANE
    Do you like poetry, Raymond?

    RAYMOND
    Can’t say, sir.

    KANE
    Mrs. Kane liked poetry -

    Raymond is now convinced that the old master is very far gone indeed – not to say off his trolley.

    RAYMOND
    Yes, Mr. Kane.

    KANE
    Not my wife – not either of them.

    He looks at the grave next to his son’s – the grave marked “MARY KANE.”

    RAYMOND
    (catching on)
    Oh, yes, sir.

    KANE
    (looking back up at the wall)
    Do you know what that is?

    RAYMOND
    (more his keeper than his butler now)
    It’s a wall you bought in China, Mr. Kane.

    KANE
    Persia . It belonged to a king.

    RAYMOND
    How did you get him to part with it, Mr. Kane?

    KANE
    He was dead…
    That’s a poem. Do you know what it means?

    RAYMOND
    No, I don’t, Mr. Kane.

    KANE
    I didn’t used to be afraid of it.

    A short pause. His eyes still on the wall, but looking through it, Kane quotes the translation.

    KANE

    The drunkeness of youth has passed like a fever,
    And yet I saw many things,
    Seeing my glory in the days of my glory,
    I thought my power eternal
    And the days of my life
    Fixed surely in the years

    But a whisper came to me
    From Him who dies not.
    I called my tributary kings together
    And those who were proud rulers under me,
    I opened the boxes of my treasure to them, saying:
    “Take hills of gold, moutains of silver,
    And give me only one more day upon the earth.”
    But they stood silent,
    Looking upon the ground;
    So that I died
    And Death came to sit upon my throne.

    O sons of men
    You see a stranger upon the road,
    You call to him and he does not step.
    He is your life
    Walking towards time,
    Hurrying to meet the kings of India and China .

    O sons of men
    You are caught in the web of the world
    And the spider Nothing waits behind it.

    Where are the men with towering hopes?
    They have changed places with owls,
    Owls who have lived in tombs
    And now inhabit a palace.

    Kane still stares at the wall, through it, and way beyond it.

    Raymond looks at him.

    DISSOLVE OUT

    March 27th, 2010 at 11:26 pm

  7. Ed says:

    A Persian poem, then, perhaps?

    The business of walking to the kings of India and China —

    It brings sharp to mind Gore Vidal’s CREATION, which is narrated by a fictional high Persian — grandson of Zoraster and lifelong friend of Xerxes — who works for the empire as a diplomat and foreign business agent — and as such undertakes great odysseys, years in length, to India and China.

    I wonder if Vidal — who of course wrote Hollywood scripts — might have been inspired by this poem, and might have encountered it in the KANE script.

    ??

    Persian is it, perhaps? Or pure Hollywood?

    My ear votes the former. A real thing.

    March 27th, 2010 at 11:29 pm

  8. CDM says:

    My ear also votes for “authentic” rather than “Hollywood” but with some reservation.

    Most of the classical Persian poetry one sees in translation is in quatrains, and comes from “ghazals” or “qasida” which are sets of couplets in the original. This poem is clearly longer in form and doesn’t break easily into couplets.

    “Rubai” and “dobaty” are four-line forms — some of the stanzas in this poem could be taken from 4-liners but the middle part is more like an epic form.

    “Masnavi” is an epic form used by later poets, and is said to consist of rhymed couplets

    Each of the stanzas in the ‘Citizen Kane’ poem, however, could be taken independently of the whole and stand by itself as a good poem. That argues for originality.

    Other than Rumi and Omar Khayyam who are widely translated in English, there are many poets recognized as great by Persians but “not available” to the West — they tell me this is because the Persian is so soft and subtle with its multiple meanings that English simply doesn’t do the job.

    We may wait for the gifted English translator to arrive with evocative translations from the Persian masters — but I think our best bet is to get in touch with some Persian literary experts and see if this poem rings a bell with any of them.

    April 22nd, 2010 at 11:33 am

  9. William Jacobs says:

    The poem is clearly based on the poem in The Thousand and One Nights, Night 340.

    May 2nd, 2010 at 12:48 am

  10. William Jacobs says:

    An addendum to my comment of yesterday: Since the numbering in Thousand and One Night editions differ, the reference to Thousand and One Nights, Night 340, is to the Mathers & Mardrus translation.

    May 2nd, 2010 at 3:02 pm

  11. ed says:

    Thanks Mr Jacobs!

    June 27th, 2010 at 10:50 am

  12. William Jacobs says:

    As a further addendum to my previous comments, I have just strayed on the following remark by N. J. Dawood in his introduction to his Penguin Classics edition translation of “Tales from the Thousand and One Nights”:

    “Here I must also mention that the verses have been left out [of Dawood's translation]. Apart from the fact that they tend to obstruct the natural flow of the narrative, they are devoid of literary merit. Internal evidence consistently shows that most of the verses were injected at random into the text by various editors.” (p. 11)

    The poem concerning death under discussion here clearly provides a counter-example to such a negative assessment.

    September 29th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

  13. Alex Fraser/Glenn Anders/Macresarf1 says:

    One of my early reviews at Epinions, back at the end of 1999, beginning of 2000, is of CITIZEN KANE. It has a discussion of the very passage you have been discussing here. Check it out (as they used to say).

    Alex/ Macresarf1

    April 16th, 2014 at 5:45 pm

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