»  Abou ben Adhem


Abou ben Adhem

by James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)


•  Background

Leigh Hunt, though a minor figure in his own right, knew everyone in literary England through the first half of the 19th century: Keats, Shelley, Byron, Hazlitt, Carlyle, Macaulay, Dickens, … He wrote poems, essays, criticism, translations, and an autobiography, but the only thing much remembered is this gem, first published in 1834 when the poet was fifty years old.

Leigh Hunt had read in Barthélemy d'Herbelot de Molainville's Bibliothèque Orientale (1781) of the Islamic belief that on the night of Shab-i-Barat, "The Night of Records" in the month of Sha'ban, Allah takes the golden book of mankind and crosses off the names of those whom he is calling to him in the coming year, those whom he loves.

For the real Abou ben Adhem, see here (from whence I took the above quote).


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem

Abou ben Adhem

by James Henry Leigh Hunt

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.