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Abou Ben Adhem Summary by Leigh Hunt About the Poet

James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), popularly known as Leigh Hunt, was an English poet, essayist, journalist, editor, writer and critic, who remained a prominent figure of the Romantic Movement in England. He was the editor of influential journals like ‘The Reflector’, and ‘The Indicator’, at a time when periodicals were culturally quite effective and on the roll. He wrote poetry in varied forms that embodied satires, epistles, narrative poems, short lyrics, odes, sonnets and poetic dramas. His works were noted for their intense and expressive descriptions along with rhythmic and soulful qualities.

He was an enthusiast of nature and surroundings, a master of temperament, which reflected in many of his works that infuse a feeling of vivaciousness and joy. As a boy, Hunt was an admirer of Thomas Grey and William Collins and tried imitating them in many ways. Since he had difficulties in speech, which was cured later, he could not make it to the university. He made a mark in the English literature with the publication of Story of Rimini in 1816.

The themes of most of his poems were patriotism, love for nature and friendship. He translated poems of many foreign languages including French, Roman, Greek and Italian. He inspired poets like Walter Savage Landor, Charles Dickens and Charles Lamb and introduced many poets like Alfred Tennyson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and Robert Browning.

His know-how of Italian and French versification is palpable from his two best known poems, Jenny Kiss’d Me and Abou Ben Adhem. Two of his remarkable play productions are A Legend of Florence and Lovers’ Amazements, while The Story of Rimini and Abou Ben Adhem are regarded as his major poems.

Abou Ben Adhem Summary About the Poem

“Abou Ben Adhem” is a poem written by Leigh Hunt, one of the 19th century English poets. The poem was first published in 1838, as one of the pieces in a three-volume entitled The Book of Gems: the Poets and Artists of Great Britain, edited by Samuel Carter Hall. Based on a story in a French book, Bibliotheque Orientale, by Barthelemy d’Herbelot de Molainville (1625 – 1695), the poem tells a little story about the importance of loving one’s fellow human beings.

The story is based on the life of Abou Ben Adhem, a Muslim Sufi mystic from Persia who was venerated as a saint after his death (circa AD 777). Much like the famous Roman Catholic ascetic, Saint Francis of Assisi, Ibrahim Ibn Adham or Abou Ben Adhem gave up a life of luxury in exchange for a simple life, devoted to his fellow man and to God.

Abou Ben Adhem Summary of the Poem

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.

Abou Ben Adhem Poem Summary
Abou Ben Adhem Poem Summary

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.

Abou Ben Adhem Summary Critical 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.

Abou Ben Adhem Summary Word-Meanings

  1. increase – multiply or grow in number
  2. bloom – mature stage of flower; blossoming
  3. exceeding – a large quantity of something, more than what is commonly perceived
  4. bold – courageous; fearless
  5. presence – reference to the angel;
  6. heerly – gladly; delightfully; cheerfully
  7. vanished – disappeared
  8. wakening light – bright light that aroused Adhem from sleep
  9. blest – blessed.