Abou Ben Adhem by James Henry Leigh Hunt
The Poem | The Poet | A Short Story | Poem 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:—
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 blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
~ by James Henry Leigh Hunt
Adrian and Zohar lived in the kingdom of King Vajra, somewhere on the middle-east of this planet few years back. Both died and reached the gates of heaven. At the gates they met God. He said “Now we will decide whether you go to heaven or hell. Let me look at your deeds and your life in the past.” Hearing this Adrian looked at Zohar with a strange grin.
Adrian was a priest in the Church. A very pious man from a conservative family. He spent most of his time in services to church and God. He was a highly respected man in the city and kingdom.
Zohar on the other hand was a professional executioner or hangman, working for the government. His job was to execute the killings of those who received capital punishment by the court. He remained an introvert most of his life. Not many people in the city knew him. And most of the neighboring kids feared him because of his profession. But he wasn’t literate, so he knew no other job.
So, God said, “let us start with you Adrian. For first 100 years you will have to live in hell, to do the penance for some of your karmas. And after you complete the term, we will decide whether you are ready to go to heaven or not.”
Adrian said, “I am so sorry for the offence, my lord. I have been a very pious priest throughout my life and have spent most of my life in your service. Wouldn’t it be unfair if you send me to hell along side a person like Zohar who spent his life killing other people?”
To this, God replied, “I am sorry my child, but who said that Zohar is going to hell? Sure, he did all the killings, but that was his job and service to his nation. You don’t know how he spent his entire life in repentance. You have no idea, but he spent many sleepless nights every time he had to execute someone, out of guilt. Apart from those killings, he did not even kill animals to feed his hunger.”
God continued by saying, “you always gave preference to white people coming to the church. You never loved all my men equally. Zohar, on the other hand, not just loved all humans equally, but was equally empathetic to animals and birds. So, my child, Zohar is going to heaven.”
Adrian understood everything, and accepted his fate.
James Henry Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859), best known as Leigh Hunt, was an English critic, essayist and poet.
Hunt co-founded The Examiner, a leading intellectual journal expounding radical principles. He was the center of the Hampstead-based group that included William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb, known as the ‘Hunt circle’. Hunt also introduced John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson to the public.
Hunt’s presence at Shelley’s funeral on the beach near Viareggio was immortalized in the painting by Louis Édouard Fournier, although in reality Hunt did not stand by the pyre, as portrayed. Hunt inspired aspects of the Harold Skimpole character in Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House.
To read more about Leigh Hunt, click here.
“Abou Ben Adhem” is a short poem that says the best expression of love of God is the love for fellow human beings. Its neither the prayers nor the church services that gets you in the good books of God.
The poem begins by stating that the central character of the poem, i.e. Abou Ben Adhem wake up from a deep and peaceful sleep, showing that something is very-very right with his life. It shows that he is leading a very blissful life. Then there is a presence of angel in his room, writing in the golden book. And when he begins talking to her, she looks at him with all of “sweet accord”. All this indicate that he is a very good soul.
In the next part also, when Abou Ben Adhem receives a negative reply to his question about whether his name is there in the list of those who loves the God, he doesn’t panic. His tone becomes a little low, but he is still cheerful. He then requests the angel, that its okay if his name is not on that list, but it would be great if she writes his name on the list of people who loves God’s creation. He would be okay even if his name is there on the list of people who love fellow mankind. He knows that he is not amongst those who are just showing off their love for God.
In the second part of the poem, set on the next night. The angel shows Abou Ben Adhem the list of men whom God loves (not those who love God). And to his surprise, he is on the top of the list. He indeed is a beautiful soul.
“Abou Ben Adhem” is comprised of two stanzas, the first with fourteen lines and the second with four. As the poem is a fable-like narrative in two parts, the poem’s form is split into two as well.
The first stanza of the poem is of 14 lines, much like a sonnet. But its rhyme scheme of AABB doesn’t replicate that of a sonnet.
The second stanza of the poem is four line with again with the rhyme scheme of AABB. It may be called a Quatrain.
Almost the whole of the poem has a meter of iambic pentameter, except for a few deviations.