About the Poet-
James Henry Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859), was an English critic, essayist, poet, and writer. In 1816 he made a mark in English literature with the publication of Story of Rimini, based on the tragic episode of Francesca da Rimini told in Dante’s Inferno. In 1818 appeared a collection of poems entitled Foliage, followed in 1819 by Hero and Leander, and Bacchus and Ariadne. In the same year he reprinted these two works with The Story of Rimini and The Descent of Liberty with the title of Poetical Works, and started the Indicator, in which some of his best work appeared. He had remarkable insights as a literary critic and discovered and introduced to the public many poets, among them John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Browning, and Alfred Tennyson. As a prose writer he was best as an essayist. But he was also the author of a novel and several plays, two of which, A Legend of Florence and Lovers’ Amazements, were produced (in 1840 and 1858, respectively).
About the Poem-
“Abou Ben Adhem” is a narrative poem by Leigh Hunt in which he attempts to capture the spirit of brotherhood and fraternity with a hint of spiritual satisfaction. Leigh Hunt was an English essayist, critic, poet and writer who was a sincere admirer of Thomas Gray and William Collins. This poem is based on the Arabian lore which tells the story of the Islamic month of Nous Sha’aban during which God opens the golden book of mankind and chooses those who love him to meet with him in the coming year. Hence, we see a magical encounter of an angel with Abou Ben Adhem.
Summary of Abou Ben Adhem
In this stanza, the angel finishes her work and disappears for the night. The next night she reappears with a “great wakening light”, a light that guides people in the right path. The angel is seen to appear in the darkness, spreading the luminous light of joy.This “great wakening light” could symbolise enlightenment. In the first paragraph, we see Abou waking up abruptly from his peaceful sleep but now we observe him waking up with a light of hope and goodness. The angel now reveals the names of those who have been recognized for their love for God. To his surprise, Abou’s love for his fellow human beings and his spirit of comradeship proved to be greater than the love for God. His honesty and his spirit of kinship made him lead the rest. Through this stanza, the poet tries to pass on the message that no love is greater than the love for fellow men.