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Abou Ben Adhem -- James Leigh Hunt

(Poem #153) Abou Ben Adhem
 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 cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
 Write me as one who 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!
-- James Leigh Hunt
There's really nothing this poem needs said about it. It is - and I mean
this is a strictly positive sense - a simple poem; Hunt takes a
straightforward story and renders it in enjoyable verse, uncomplicated by
hidden meanings or stylistic tricks. It's also an extremely well known poem
- the latter due at least in part to its being inflicted upon countless
generations of schoolchildren[1].

Wodehouse devotees will doubtless recognise the poem as being well-loved by

[1] The young Isaac Asimov once got himself into trouble for, when asked why
Ben Adhem's name led all the rest, waving his hand wildly and answering
'alphabetical order', a spirited but unappreciated stand against the
belabouring of the obvious.

Biography etc:

See poem #103

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Anonymous said...

Being a woman of a certain age, born in Brooklyn, NY who recalled the poem from something learned in grammar school and from my mother's recitation, at her daughter's very young single-digited age.

Why do I recall it? I haven't a clue except to recall, in the dusty file cabinet of my mind, that at such a young age, the poem made a rare and permanent impression upon me. Perhaps it heralded a peek into my future careers (university and then grad school while being an English teacher and working another part time job)

Yes, I did mention I was a woman of a certain age, an age that hardly paid anyone with a college degree enough salary to pay the rent, have food, a cheap car, pay for all of the other amenities that were part of being a single, educated, adult woman. (Who did not come from privilege of any kind)and learned to pay her own way through life, way too early, but nonetheless, a lesson remembered.

Fast forwarding a bit, once my students learned to read and "close cover before striking," burned the school down. A change of careers was a wise choice for me and so it happened that I became part of a minority-management hiring program whose first assignment was in systems (IT it was named back in the day.) and told my first manager that: "Computers would NEVER replace people."

By some stroke of luck, an intervention from a power greater than myself, a message from God, or whatever you might call it, my manager told me, "Joan, computers are replacing people. Learn this and you will always pay the mortgage."

I learned that and shortly thereafter saw the connection between a line of code (IT, computer language code) and an English sentence. I was old enough to have been taught and learned grammar -- the rest is history or HERstory.

Decades ago, when only mainframes were in existence, I saw the correlation between these objects and my ability to write about these elements; clearly and to any audience at all. Further, I could teach these things to any audience, having taught in the public school system in prior years.

And thus, IBM, Intel, Cisco, Sun, Oracle, Google, and others of their ilk gave me hands-on life experience that grew (and gratefully continues to do so) on a daily basis.

Thank you for reading this diatribe-like note. Thanks Mom in heaven for your words and teaching me, even without my realization, that Leigh Hunt gave me an opportunity to have my life today...many, many decades ago! ;-)~~~

Anonymous said...

I, too, learned this poem as a child. It has stayed with me all my life. It reminds me of another that I learned from a tiny book when I was 8.'Let me live in a house by the side of the road where the race of men go by - the men that are good, the men that are bad, as good and as bad as I. I would not sit in the scorner's seat, nor wave the cynic's ban. Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend of man. I am now 77!

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Unknown said...

Wow! The chain of comments is unbroken from 2004 onwards. It really says something about how it resontates with people in their eighties/ninties and people of much younger generation (like myself) still find it relatable. It was part of our curriculum in 8th grade here in Pakistan. As someone who was not particularly fond of English literature, this is one of the only two poems taught at my school that still sticks in my memory. (The other one, by the way, is Youth and Age by Coleridge).

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Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this poem which unites simplicity and depth! I came searching for it on the web just to get the words right as it's a poem I like to recite often. Like many others, I learnt it by heart at school in Lagos - I'm NIgerian - some 40 years ago. I hope many others get the benefit of discovering it on the web. Thanks for posting it here.

Unknown said...

just yesterday while watching the 16th episode of Shehr-e-zaat ( a Pak serial on Zindagi Channel), I heard this poem being recited by lead role actor to one of the poor girls. This I heard after almost 48 years and that is when I was in the 6th grade. I had liked this poem so much, my teacher recited it with great musical tone. We enjoyed it then, but learning it by heart was just a nightmare to all of my classmates. I just happened to check it on the web as I had thought of it yesterday. Thanks for posting it. The memories rolled as a flashback.

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I have a very old copy, Title page says one copy privately printed Mcmxxiv. It is a hardcover, about 6 X 4, And the pages are printed only on the face side. Anyone have any ideas about it?

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