“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.
The poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt opens with the introduction of the protagonist with a blessing upon him. Perhaps the use of the phrase “may his tribe increase!” anticipates the reward for the protagonist’s noble feelings of fellowship. One night Abou woke up from a “deep dream of peace” only to see an angel writing on the golden book. The natural shine of the angel has made the room look even brighter. The simile used to convey how beautiful the room looked in the presence of the angel is suggested in the phrase “Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom”. It suggests the idea of the birth of something beautiful and pure. Abou was naturally surprised at the sight of seeing an angel in his room.
However, he didn’t let astonishment take over his sense of calmness and he asked the angel without any hesitation what she was writing. The sweetness and purity of the angel are reflected in the way she speaks. She says in the kindest voice that she has been writing the names of those men who love God. Out of curiosity, he asks the angel if he has been honored with the acknowledgment of his love for God. But the angel honestly replies that his name is not included in the list of God’s favorites. Although Abou feels a little low at this remark still it does not upset Abou. He cheerfully asks the angel to kindly include his name not as someone who loves God but as the one “that loves his fellow men”. This establishes the true essence of the poem. This statement embodies the idea that to love fellow men is as noble a job as to love God himself. He is a believer of God as well as a believer of humanity.
Stanza 2 –
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 on the right path. The angel is seen to appear in the darkness, spreading the luminous light of joy. This “great wakening light” could symbolize 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.
Central Idea of Abou Ben Adhem
“Abou Ben Adhem” is a parable in verse by Leigh Hunt that revolves around propagating goodness in people. The poet tries to highlight the idea that to love people is to love God himself and if you have sympathy and love for your fellow men then God will shower you with his love as well. It is only when you love your fellow men, you become worthy of being loved by God. This poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt embodies the idea “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.
Tone of Abou Ben Adhem
The poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt is invested with a spiritual and humanistic tone. It promotes a positive outlook on life by emphasizing values like helping fellow men in need and spreading joy and happiness. The first stanza reveals Abou’s encounter with the angel and the second stanza gives the message that God loves those who love their fellow men and spread feelings of unity and brotherhood rather than evilness and cruelty. The poem inspires us to be optimistic as well. When Abou asks the angel if his name was there on the list, the angel’s negative reply makes Abou a little sad but he does not lose hope. He cheerfully asks the angel to include his name as someone who loves his fellow men.
Theme of Abou Ben Adhem
Devotion to God and love for fellow men
This poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt is a celebration of morals and ethics like brotherhood, sympathy, support, unity, fraternity, and selflessness. “Abou Ben Adhem” idealizes the fact that true devotion to God is not complete as long as you don’t have fellow feelings for other men. When you love your fellow men, you become worthy to be loved by God. Abou is a pious, helpful and nobleman who believes in loving others as much she loves God. When the angel appears in his room in the dark, he does not get scared. Instead, the purity and beauty pervading the room make him bold. On knowing what the angel was writing in the golden book, Abou asks her if his name is on the list of people who love God. The negative reply of the angel does not upset him and he cheerfully says the angel that he loves his fellow men. The message of the poem is made evident as the angel reappears the next night and surprises Abou by saying that he has been blessed with the love of God. Thus, when you love your fellow men, you indirectly love God himself. When you do good deeds, good things are meant to happen to you. It does not matter if you are a true devotee to God but if you don’t respect and love your fellow men, you are not worthy to be loved by God.
Poetic Devices in Abou Ben Adhem
Alliteration– It is the close repetition of consonant sounds, usually at the beginning of words. For instance,
“ Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace”
“Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord”
“Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom”
Climax- A climax is a figure of speech used to describe something in the increasing order of its importance. It refers to the text leading up to an event, phrase, mood or feeling of importance in a given text. In this poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt, too, the story builds up in the increasing order of its importance. At first, Abou meets the angel, then he asks is his name is there on the list and then he finally reveals his love for his fellow men. The last four lines of the poem can be regarded as the climax of the poem. The angel disappears after writing Abou’s name as someone who loves his fellow men more than he loves God. And the next night she comes up and surprises Abou by saying that his name led all the rest.
Simile- It is a figure of speech in which a likeness between two different things is stated in an explicit way, using the words ‘as’ or ‘like’. For instance, the simile “like a lily in bloom” is used to describe the room that was lit with the purity and goodness of the angel. It emphasizes the beauty of the room in the presence of the angel. “Like a lily in bloom” also draws our attention to the idea of the blooming of something pure and beautiful from Abou’s encounter with the angel.
Rhyme Scheme in Abou Ben Adhem
The poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt is composed of eighteen lines divided into two stanzas. The first stanza is made of fourteen lines and the second stanza is made of four lines. The poet follows a single rhyme scheme throughout the poem. The first line rhymes with the second, the third line rhymes with the fourth, the fifth line rhymes with the sixth and so on.
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, & 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 rais’d its head,
And, in a tone made of all sweet accord,
Answer’d “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 cheerily still, and said “I pray thee then,
Write me, as one that loves his fellow men.”