Abou Ben Adhem, a widely anthologized poem by Leigh Hunt carries a simple yet very important message : of loving and caring for one’s fellow men and women. The poem uses a mystical experience by a man called Abou Ben Adhem to demonstrate the importance of love, compassion and fraternity among fellow him an beings. The poem is composed in a series of rhymed with an aba rhyme scheme (so are the initials of the title!). Abou Ben Adhem describes a ‘divine’ experience a man called Abou has one night. This kind and upright man wakes up one fine night to see an angel inside his room. The angel is busy writing something on book of gold. On being asked what is it that he’s been writing, the angel replies “The names of those who love the Lord”. Abou further learns that his name is not present in the list. However, despite the not-so-flattering discovery, Abou maintains his cheerful spirit and requests the angel to write his name instead as “one that loves his fellow men”. Having written as directed, the angel departs only to return the next day with a list of those whom God’s Love has blessed. This time, Abu’s name is at the top of the list.
Abou Ben Adhen | Analysis
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:-
The poem begins with Abu waking up one night to find an angel in his room. One might notice that Abu wakes up from a “deep dream of peace”. Being an upright man, Abu has nothing to worry about and has no anxiety, guilt or worry. Consequently, he has a sound sleep and wakes up from a “deep dream of peace”. from. Notice the use of Assonance to capture the sweet nature of his sleep by using pleasant sounding syllables :
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
This moment of tranquillity is succeeded by a sudden, dazzling vision. Hunt creates this effect through the splendid visual imagery of the moonlit room within which, “like a lily in bloom“, an angel is writing in a “book of gold”. The simile of lily is apt as lilies are symbolic of humility and devotion, two traits that Abou Ben Adhem seems to embody.
Hunt, very much influenced by the Islamic and Judeo- Christian worldview writes about the Book of Gold which on which is inscribed the name of the people who love the Lord.
Lines 6 – 14
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said, What writest thou?”-
The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, ” The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one ?” said Abou. “Nay,not so.”
Replied the angel, Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said”I pray thee,then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
Abou, far from being surprised or afraid of such a supernatural sight (an Angel had entered his room for God’s sake !) has some very important queries instead because “exceeding peace” makes him bold enough to do so.
The use of archaic, Old English lends an air of grandeur, befitting an angel. One being asked what he is writing on the book, the angel tells Abou that he’s writing the names of those who love the Lord. Upon being asked whether his name is there on the book, Abou receives a negative response. It is noteworthy that Abou isn’t dismayed to hear that his name isn’t featured on the first book though it isn’t a very pleasurable revelation. Nevertheless, Abou persists in his goodness and instead asks the angle to write his name as “one that loves his fellow men”.
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
About surely isn’t one who does lip service to worship but rather demonstrates the goodness within him by loving and serving his fellow men. When the angel visits the next day to show the names whom God’s love has blessed we find that it is his name which leads the list.
The poem ends with an exhortation : And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
Notice, the poem began with an exhortation as well : Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!).
Thus, we see its use in the first and last lines of the poems, thus effectively enclosing the poem itself. This use of this method not only describes the nature of Abou but prescribes this action ( of loving his fellow men) as something that may be imitated by others. Thus, the poem is not only descriptive but also (and more importantly) prescriptive in nature . It encourages the readers to be like Abou.
Abou Ben Adhem is essentially a firm affirmation of the fact that it is one’s actions and not empty worship which is of greater importance in the eyes of God. Loving and caring for fellow human beings is the ultimate good that can be achieved in this life of ours
It is one’s acknowledgement and appreciation of the humanity of others and not mere religiosity which makes one valuable both in the eyes of God and mankind.
About the author
Born on 19th October 1784, Leigh Hunt was an English critic, poet and and an essayist of the 19th century. Hunt was an important literary critic of his times and played a leading role in introducing poets like John Keats, Shelley , Tennyson and Browning to the reading public . One may view him as a critic who was influential in introducing both Romantic and Victorian poets to the world.
Hunt wrote in various magazines, journals, newspapers and worked as an editor of journals like The Examiner, The Companion and The Indicator.
A thoroughgoing liberal for his times, he regularly wrote about the abolition of slavery and the need for reforms in the British Parliament. His literary output mainly consists of poems of which Abou Ben Adhem, Jenny Kissed Me Rondeau, The Glove and the Lions and The Story of Rimini among others.
Leigh Hunt died on 28th August 1859.