- Abou Ben Adhem awoke one night from his deep sleep and saw an angel in his room writing something in its “book of gold”.
- Abou calmly asked the angel what it was writing. The angel answered that it was writing the names of those men who loved the God.
- Abou asked whether his name was in the angel’s list. Getting a reply in the negative, Abou requested the angel to write his name as one who loved his fellow men. The angel wrote and vanished.
- The following night the angel came again to show the list of those whom God has blessed. Abou Ben Adhem’s name was on the top.
Abou Ben Adhem: Explanation
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
The poem opens with the name of the protagonist and a blessing upon him. The use of the parenthesis in (May his tribe increase!) indicates that this portion is not directly linked to the poem itself. Yet this is a gesture by the poet to declare that here is a man worth remembering for generations to come.
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.
These lines are full of visual imagery and Metaphors; they describe an Awakening. ‘A deep dream of peace’ refers to a meditative, restful state that Abou Ben Adhem was in. Abou awakens to the presence of the angel which has already effected a transformation of the room, gilding it, making it look like a ‘lily in bloom’. The angel is writing something in a golden book.
The simile ‘like a lily in bloom’ conveys the potential of this encounter to bloom into something pure and noble. The fabled ‘book of gold’ symbolizes its richness and the great value placed on its contents.
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.
It is not every day that one has a divine visitor calmly writing away in one’s room. Imagine Abou Ben Adhem’s astonishment. Then again, feel the tranquil awareness that still comes through. The angel’s nonchalant actions could have emboldened him to satisfy his curiosity.
Without any preamble, he asks the angel – “What writest thou?” – an old-fashioned way of asking “What are you writing?”. The angel replies in a ‘tone of sweet accord’ – a voice full of patience and kindness- that it is writing the names of those who have been honored by heaven for their love of God.
Another feature to consider in this portion are the ways by which the poet refers to the angel – viz. as a ‘Presence’ and as a ‘Vision’.
“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.”
Eagerly, Abou asks if his love for God has been worthy enough to earn him a place in the angel’s heavenly book. The angel’s negative answer comes in a kind but matter-of-fact way. But he still perseveres and humbly but cheerfully makes his iconic request — to write his name as ‘one who loves his fellow men’. Contemplate on the fact that Abou Ben Adhem is unsure about his love for God, in contrast to the confidence he has of his love for mankind. “Write me as one that loves his fellow men.” These are the words that hold the poem’s essence and render this poem immortal.
The angel wrote, & vanish’d. The next night
It came again, with a great wakening light,
Our angelic host complies and leaves only to return in the next night. Our poet now speaks of a second awakening. Here, we see a ‘great wakening light’– so bright that it rouses Abou Ben Adhem awake. On a metamorphic level, this speaks of an enlightenment. Contrast this with the earlier waking scenario, which is inherently more gentle and subtle. Our heavenly messenger apparently comes with some important news.
And showed the names whom love of God had bless’d,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
This is the moment of truth, the point where most readers either smile or scoff. Whatever your reaction, this is where the poem bares the priorities of God. The angel now reveals the names whom God has blessed. To Abou Ben Adhem’s astonishment, it is his name that leads everyone else’s. His love for mankind proved to be valued greater than the others’ love of God.
Hunt brings charm and idealism to his interpretation of Religion that finds more virtue in acts of Compassion rather than just Faith. This is what makes this poem memorable.