ChapterAbou Ben Adhem

”Abou Ben Adhem” by Leigh Hunt explores love and service to fellow human beings as the highest form of worship. It’s set in a Middle Eastern context with a real Sufi saint as the protagonist of the poem.

Meet the Poet

  • Leigh Hunt was a renowned English poet, essayist, and a firm liberal.
  • Born: October 19, 1784
  • Place of Birth: Southgate, London, England
  • Died: August 28, 1859
  • Major Works: Abou Ben Adhem and Jenny Kiss'd Me
  • Best Known For: He was a prominent figure in the Romantic movement, a prolific writer who encouraged many writers like Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, and Charles Dickens into the literary scene.
Sculpture of an Angel
Sculpture of an Angel

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Summary of the Poem

”Abou Ben Adhem” by Leigh Hunt is a profound poem that delves into the essence of divine love and human kindness. It’s a narrative poem set in the Middle East that has a supernatural experience. He awakens to find an angel recording the names of those who love God.

The poem opens with Abou Ben Adhem waking from a peaceful sleep to a serene, moonlit scene. An angel is seen writing in a golden book, symbolizing divine record-keeping. The tranquility in the room emboldens Abou to converse with the angel. The scene in the beginning of the poem is serene and calm, this setting introduces the spiritual and mystical tone of the poem.

An angel writing in a book of gold: -
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,

Abou is curious and asks the angel about the book and its contents. The angel has a sweet tone and demeanour and replies that it lists those who love God. Abou's absence from the list is met with a humble, yet hopeful, request to be included as a lover of fellow humans.

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.

Golden Book
Golden Book

The angel records Abou's name and disappears, leaving a sense of mystery and anticipation. The angel reappears the following night, revealing a new list where Abou's name leads all others. This symbolizes the divine blessing for his selfless love towards humanity.

And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

An important theme of the poem is genuine devotion manifests in loving others. Abou's placement at the top of the list underscores the importance of humanistic values in spiritual realms. It shows that human kindness and compassion is the highest form of worship. It also reflects Jesus Christ's teachings about loving God and one's neighbor, emphasizing the latter as a measure of true devotion.

The form and structure of the poem is a narrative parable written in verse. It says a simple story illustrating a moral or spiritual lesson. Its eighteen lines are divided into two stanzas, each conveying a distinct part of Abou's interaction with the angel.

The poem employs a simple rhyming scheme, enhancing its lyrical quality. For example, the first and second lines rhyme, as do subsequent pairs, forming a series of rhyming couplets. So, it goes aabbccdd…

The poem uses alliteration to create rhythm, for example in the first stanza

  • Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, - line 2
  • Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, - line 6
  • "What writest thou?"-The vision raised its head, - line 8
  • Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord," - line 10
  • "And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so," - line 11
  • But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then, - line 13

Climax in literature denotes the build-up to a significant event, expression, emotion, or atmosphere in prose or poetry. In 'Abou Ben Adhem,' this is used in the final four lines.

The line talks about the angel noting Abou’s name and vanishing but then appearing and the new list has Abou’s name at the top.

And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

This moment of revelation is heightened by the exclamation 'lo!', as the poet unveils, 'And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.' The use of 'lo!' intensifies the surprise and the significance of Abou's top position on the list.

The poem intertwines the natural and supernatural, leaving an ambiguity as to whether Abou's experience was a dream or a divine encounter.

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Abou Ben Adhem Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

The poem explores the themes of divine love, humanism, and the significance of selfless service to fellow humans in attaining divine blessing.

”Abou Ben Adhem” by Leigh Hunt explores the themes of divine love and human compassion. Divine love is shown through the angel who writes down the names of those who love God. However, Abou's name isn't on the list, which introduces the theme of human compassion.

In ”Abou Ben Adhem,” Leigh Hunt uses several symbols: The Angel, represents divine presence and communication between God and humans. The Book of Gold symbolizes divine record-keeping and judgment. The setting is a peaceful and mystical scene, symbolizing clarity and enlightenment. The reappearance of the angel signifies revelation and the revelation of higher truths, emphasizing the importance of human compassion in spiritual realms.