Tuesday, September 20, 2011

abou ben adhem

I first heard this piece by James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784 - 1859) a few years ago at a conference on education and social justice. At the time, it was recited by Bob Moses who shared it as one of the few poems he had been forced to memorize in school. I recently found the poem again when I was browsing through a used bookstore this weekend. It is interesting to me that Hunt chose to give his protagonist an Arab name (literally the father-of-the-son-of-Adam). I wonder what was going on with Orientalism in Hunt's world that he was willing to make an Arab (Muslim?) the paragon of humanistic virtue?

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.

No comments: