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Abou Ben Adhem
A Poem by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Source
Who Was Ben Adhem?
Text of the Poem
Theme
End Rhyme
Internal Rhyme
Meter
Alliteration, Assonance
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Biography of Hunt
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2011
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Type of Work and Publication Year

......."Abou 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.

Source

.......Leigh Hunt based the poem on a story in a French book, Bibliothèque Orientale, by Barthélemy d'Herbelot de Molainville (1625-1695).

Who Was Abou Ben Adhem?
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.......Abou 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.
.......Like 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 stoppedthen I began again, and urged my horse on. Three times it happened, like that. Then I heard the voicefrom the horn of my saddle, by God!saying, "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, trans. An Account of the Mystics of Islam. London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1950)
Text of the Poem
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 blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Theme

.......Leigh 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. 

End Rhyme

.......Hunt 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 and singing.

Internal Rhyme

.......The poem also contains internal rhyme, as in lines 1-3. 

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, withiin the moonlight in his room
Meter

.......The meter of the poem varies. Most of the lines have ten syllables that frequently consist of five iambs, as in line 3 and 5. 

......1................2.................3................4...............5

And SAW,..|..With IN..|..the MOON..|..light IN..|..his ROOM

....1...............2..............3.............4...............5
An AN..|..gel WRIT..|..ing IN..|..a BOOK..|..of GOLD

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Alliteration, Assonance

.......Following are examples of alliteration and assonance in the poem.

Alliteration

Abou Ben (line 1)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace (line 2)
like a lily (line 4)
Ben Adhem bold (line 5)
"I pray thee, then (line 14)
Assonance
Ben Adhem (line 1)
deep dream of peace (line 2)
Making it rich (line 4)
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest! (line 20)
Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • 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.
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