Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt

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:—
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.”

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.

Summary

The poem “Abou Ben Adhem” depicts the heavenly feelings of Abou Adhem, a strong believer in God who believes that not only loving God, but also loving people who believe in God is great.

The poem describes an event in the life of Adhem as when one night, he woke up from his deep peaceful sleep and saw a beautiful angel, in the moonlight (that lit his room), writing something in a golden book. He looked at the angel with wonder. The peaceful ambience of the room encouraged him to question the angel, “what writest thou?” i.e., what was he writing.

The angel raised its head and with sweetness answered Adhem that it was writing the names of all those who loved God. On hearing this, Abou enquired about his name in the list. But the angel’s reply was negative which made Abou a little sad but still he cheerfully requested the angel to write his name in the list of people who loved God’s fellowmen.

The angel wrote something in the book and disappeared. The next night the angel appeared again with a great bright light that roused Adhem from his sleep. It showed Adhem the names of those people whom God has blessed and to great surprise, Abou’s name was at the top of the list.

Analysis

The poem ‘Abou Ben Adhem’ is rooted in a purely spiritual context, reflecting some of the fundamental human values and ideals cherished by any religious system. It consists of 18 lines including 9 rhymed couplets. It is interesting to note that the poetic device of rhymed couplet had been earlier used by Augustan poets, particularly Alexander Pope about a century. However, the form of poetic expression called blank verse had become so popular in Hunt’s time that none of his best-known contemporaries preferred to use rhymed couplets. Hunt might have felt that this form of poetic expression would communicate the ideas of love, peace and happiness around which this poem revolves, more intelligibly and with greater ease.

The poem talks about the religious escapades of a man known as “Adhem”. He sees an angel one night in his room but he remains unruffled. He refused to be scared since he had firm belief in God. For him, seeing an angel is a happy thing. He is rather interested in knowing what the angel is writing down. He gets the information that the angel is drafting a list of people who love God. He therefore strives to know whether his name is also included. He gets the information that his name is not in the list but also refuses to be sad or dejected because of that. He goes on to request the angel to write his name in the list of people who love God’s fellowmen. Later one night, the angel comes back with a list that has Adhem’s name at the very top.

In all, Abou Ben Adhem is simply a narrative poem. It tells the story of the man Adhem and his encounter with an angel. The poem sends a message about the power of love, faith and prayer. It shows how some people pray to God. Some pray to love God while others pray in love with their fellowmen. In any case, the love of fellowmen attracts God’s blessing.

In this poem, the poet uses the language of the poem to convey the idea that loving your fellow man is the way one loves the Lord and is what allows an individual to become truly alive. He uses the simile “a lily in bloom” to convey flowering of the human spirit that occurs when men look beyond themselves. The poem’s message explains- the best way to love God is to love others, which brings God’s blessing. The “book of gold” symbolizes the richness a man encounters when he loves the Lord, a richness of spirit that transcends this life.

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