Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
of Work and Publication Year
Ben Adhem" is a poem that tells a little story about the importance of
loving one's fellow human beings. The London firm of Saunders and Otley
published the poem in a three-volume collection (printed between 1836 and
1838) entitled The Book of Gems: the Poets and Artists of Great Britain,
edited by Samuel Carter Hall.
Hunt based the poem on a story in a French book, Bibliothèque
Orientale, by Barthélemy d'Herbelot de Molainville (1625-1695).
Was Abou Ben Adhem?
Ben Adhem was a Muslim mystic, or Sufi, in Persia who was venerated as
a saint after his death (circa AD 777). Writers of English-language religion
and history books usually refer to him as Ibrahim ibn (or bin) Adham.
the famous Roman Catholic ascetic, Saint Francis of Assisi, Ibrahim ibn
Adham gave up a life of luxury in exchange for a simple life devoted to
his fellow man and to God. Ibrahim's description of the moment of his conversion
to a new lifestyle appears in Tabaqat al-Sufiya, a book about Sufism
by Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami, who died in AD 1021.
My father was one
of the princes of Khurasan, and I was a youth, and rode to the chase. I
went out one day on a horse of mine, with my dog along, and raised a hare
or fox. While I was chasing it, I heard the voice of an unseen speaker
say, "Oh Ibrahim, for this wast thou created? Is it this thou wast commanded
to do?" I felt dread, and stoppedu0097then I began
again, and urged my horse on. Three times it happened, like that. Then
I heard the voiceu0097from the horn of my saddle,
by God!u0097saying, "It was not for this thou
wast created! It is not this thou wast commanded to perform!" I dismounted
then, and came across one of my father's shepherds, and took from him his
woolen tunic and put it on. I gave him my mare and all I had with me in
exchange, and turned my steps toward Mecca. (Quoted in Arthur John Arberry,
An Account of the Mystics of Islam. London, George Allen
& Unwin Ltd., 1950)Text of
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
peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the
room he said,
"What writest thou?" u0097The
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
And showed the names whom
love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name
led all the rest.
Hunt plainly states the theme: Loving your fellow human beings is a sign
that you love God. By implication, the poem also says that hating your
fellow humans estranges you from God.
wrote the poem in rhyming pairs of lines (couplets). In other words, line
1 rhymes with line 2 (increase, peace), line 3 with line
4 (room, bloom), line 5 with line 6 (gold, bold),
and so on. All of the end rhymes are masculine rather than feminine. In
masculine rhyme, only the final syllable of one line rhymes with the final
syllable of another line. In feminine rhyme, the final two syllables of
a line rhyme with the final two syllables of another line, as in ringing
poem also contains internal rhyme, as in lines 1-3.
Adhem (may his
Awoke one night from a deep
dream of peace,
And saw, withiin
the moonlight in
meter of the poem varies. Most of the lines have ten syllables that frequently
consist of five iambs, as in line 3 and
are examples of alliteration
and assonance in the poem.
Ben (line 1)
one night from a deep
dream of peace (line 2)
a lily (line 4)
Adhem bold (line 5)
"I pray thee,
then (line 14)
Adhem (line 1)
Questions and Writing Topics
dream of peace
rich (line 4)
And, lo! Ben
Adhem's name led
all the rest! (line 20)
Write a short poem on a theme
similar to the one in "Abou Ben Adhem."
Write a short poem that uses
rhyming couplets. The topic is open.
When addressing the angel, why
does Ben Adhem use "thou" and "thee" instead of you?
"Abou Ben Adhem" is a didactic
poem. What is the meaning of didactic?
Find at least two other examples
of alliteration besides those listed above under Alliteration.