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ICSE Class 10 Abou Ben Adhem Summary
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The poem Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt is the story of Ibrahim Ibn Adham, the king of Balkhi in his early age and later one of the most celebrated of Sufi Saints. He renounced his throne and embraced Sufism. Sufi tradition ascribes to him countless acts of righteousness and his humble life style.
Abou Ben Adhem reminds us of Christ’s answer to the lawyer who wanted to know the greatest of God’s commandments. Christ had replied, firstly, “Love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole mind and with thy whole soul’ and secondly, ‘Love thy neighbor’. It is on this second commandment that the poem is based. The Central idea of the poem is that God loves those who love their fellowmen. The poet through the example of Abou Ben Adhem inspires us to love our fellowmen. How can we love God whom we cannot see, if we are unable to love those human beings whom we can see? According to the poet, he, who is patient and thankful, is loving and forgets his self for others will receive a great reward – the love of his Lord.
Moreover, he took the message of this poem from a story found in D’Herbelots’ Oriental stories. Concord newspaper in a review called this poem the best lay sermon that can ever be written.
Leigh Hunt was born on October 19, 1784 in Southgate Middlesex England. He was the son of a Clergyman, educated at Christ Hospital. He made the love of poetry and literature popular in England.
According to him, although scientific knowledge was growing day by day, still it will leave untouched the invisible sphere above and about us.
He was the central figure of the Romantic movement in England. He produced narrative poems, satires, odes, epistles, sonnets, short lyrics and translations from Greek, Roman, Italian and French poems. His poetry is imbued with the spirit of cheerfulness, which makes it pleasant but not great. As a poet, he played a major role in freeing the couplet from the rigidly of neoclassical practice.
It is not known why a person like Hunt who published his first literary work at the age of seventeen in 1801 could not carry on the promise shown in his first published work Juvenilia. In 1816, the publication OF The Story of Remini, based on the tragic episodeof Francesca Remini in Dante’s Inferno gave him name and fame. In 1818, Foliage, his first volume of poetry since Juvenilia was published. From 1816-20, the continued editing The Examiner and wrote two journals. Other published works include A Tale of the Woods (1820), Stories from the Italian Poets (1846), Hero and Leander (1819) and Bacchus in Tuscany (1825).
The Poem in Detail:
Lines 1 – 6:
Abou Ben Adhem woke up one night from deep sleep. The poet wishes his tribe to increase that is, he wishes there may be more people like Abou Ben Adhem. When he woke up, he saw an angel writing something in a golden book. The angel had a light like a lily which was going to blossom. It was peaceful in the room and it gave Abou Ben Adhem courage.
Lines 7 – 12:
He asked the vision like appearance of the angel what he was writing. The angel raised his head and looked at Abou with kindness. He answered that he was writing the names of those who love the Lord. Abou curiously asked if his name was there. The angel replied in the negative which made Abou a little sad.
Lines 13- 18:
Next moment Abou requested the angel cheerfully to write his name in the list of those who love their fellow human beings. The angel wrote something and disappeared. The next night he came again with great light and showed Abou the names of those who had been blessed by God and with surprise Abou Ben Adhem saw that his name was on the top.
i. Form and structure:
The poem is a parable verse. A parable is a short story used to illustrate moral or spiritual lessons as told by Jesus in the Gospels.
The poem gives us a message that God loves those who love their fellowmen.
Hunt wrote the poem in rhyming pairs of lines (Couplets) Line-1 rhymes with line-2 (increase and peace) line 3 with line 4(room, bloom) and soon.
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
A work one night from a dream of peace.
As a poet, Leigh Hunt played a major role in freeing the couplet from the rigidity of the earlier practice in English Literature.
It is a close repetition of consonant sounds, e.g.
(vii) Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace
(viii) Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord”.
The comparison between two objects is called simile.
‘Making it rich like a lily in bloom’.
The last four lines be a climax. The angel disappears after writing Abou Ben Adhem’s name. Then again, he appears the next night and to everyone’s surprise Abou’s name is on the top of the list, in which the names of those, whom God loves, are written and that is the climax.
v. Supernatural Element:
Leigh Hunt believed that the supernatural element will always be present in literature like angels, spirits and other supernatural beings. The term supernatural refers to something above reason unexplained by science or laws of nature.
Abou waking up in the middle of the night sees an angel writing something and the room was filled with brilliant light. It seems magical and unbelievable. It has an eerie quality and not comprehensible by man. It is also not clear whether Abou really saw an angel or it was a dream. Overall, the episode seems to relate to the realm of the supernatural.
may his tribe increase – may there be more people like Abou Ben Adhem in this world.
bold – courageous.
deep dream of peace – a real peaceful dream or a deep meditative condition.
presence – it is about the angel’s presence.
book of gold – a book having golden leaves
vision – angel
Lo – an exclamation of wonder or surprise
wakening light – bright light which wakened
Abou Ben Adhem from his sleep
vanished – disappeared.
(1) Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:
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.
1. Who was Abou Ben Adhem? What is meant by may his tribe increase?
A1. Abou Ben Adhem was not a fictitious figure. He was the king of Balkhi, who renounced his Kingdom to become a Sufi and adopt a humble living. Leigh Hunt’s Abou Ben Adhem is the story of Ibrahim Ibn Adham.
2. Explain the meaning of ‘deep dream of peace’. How could Abou have peace?
A2. Abou Ben Adhem was a religious and pious man. His thoughts were also the thoughts of peace. He wanted peace in this world. Those, who think of others, have the love of Lord in their hearts, have certainly the peace within.
‘Deep dream of peace’ means Abou Ben Adhem was dreaming of peace all over the world and being a man of pure heart, his sleep was deep and undisturbed. Therefore, he was having an undisturbed dream of peace.
3. Why is moonlight compared to a lily in bloom?
A3. Moonlight is the mixture of yellow and white and these colors are the symbols of purity. The lily is also of the same color and a symbol of virginity and purity. That’s why the moonlight is compared to a lily in bloom.
4. What does Abou Ben Adhem encounter upon wakening? Give the significance of the book of gold.
A4. When Abou Ben Adhem wakes us, he sees an angel in his room. He was writing in a book of gold. The ‘book of gold’ symbolizes the richness an encounter, when he loves the Lord, a richness of spirit that transcends this life.
5. What had made Ben Adhem bold?
A5. A person who leads a simple, pure and blameless life is not frightened by anybody. Abou Ben Adhem was a pious man and he felt no fear when he saw an angel in his room.
6. What kind of person was Abou Ben Adhem?
A6. Abou Ben Adhem was a pious man who believed in loving the Lord by serving and loving his fellowmen.
(2) Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:
And to the presence in the room he said
“What writest thou?” – The vision raised his head
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered “Names of those who love the Lord”.
“And is mine one? said Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellowmen”.
1. What is referred to as the presence in the above extract? What does Abou say to the presence?
A1. An angel is referred to as the presence in the above extract.
Abou says to the angel what he was writing.
2. What is the vision referred to here? Why does it raise his head?
A2. The angel, who was in Abou’s room writing in a book of gold, is referred here as the vision.
It raises its head hearing Abou’s question regarding his writing.
3. What does the angel tell Abou Ben Adhem in the above extract?
A3. The angel tells Abou Ben Adhem that he is writing the names of those who love the Lord.
4. What does Abou curiously ask the angel? What makes him low?
A4. Abou Ben Adhem asks the angel if his name is there among those who love the Lord. As the angel answers that his name is not there, so he becomes a little dejected.
5. Does Abou feel disheartened at the angel’s reply, which words tell you so? What does Abou request the angel to do?
A5. Yes, Abou feels disheartened at the angel’s reply but not much as his answer shows ‘Abou spoke lower.
But cheerly still’, and said, “I pray thee, then write me as one that loves his fellowmen”.
Thus, he requests the angel to write his name among those, who love their fellow human beings.
(3) Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:
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.
1. What did the angel write? Describe what happened the night after the angel vanished.
A1. The angel wrote Abou Ben Adhem’s name among those who loved their fellow human beings. It so happened that the angel came again after the night it vanished.
2. Briefly give a character sketch of Abou Ben Adhem.
A2. Ibrahim Ibn Adham, also called King of Balkhi (718-782) is one of the most prominent of the ascetic Sufi Saints. He was a prince and renouncing his throne and a life of luxury and pomp and show, he became a Sufi following a humble life style and doing countless acts of righteousness. His life after becoming a Sufi, contrasted sharply with his early life as the King of Balkhi. He emphasized the importance of silence and meditation for asceticism. This poem is the story of Ibrahim Ibn Adham.
3. Explain the following lines:
(a) It came again with a great wakening light.
(b) And Lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
A3. (a) The poet says that the angel came again the next night and again there was a dazzling light. Wakening light also means the light which roused Abou Ben Adhem from his sleep.
(b) When Ben Adhem saw the list again the next night, with great surprise, he found that his name was written on the top of the list.
4. What did the angel show Abou? How can you look at the extract as the climax of the poem?
A4. The angel showed Ben Adhem the list in which the names of those were written whom God loved. The text leading up to an event, mood or feeling of importance, in prose or poetry is called climax. Here the last four lines of the poem be a climax. After writing Adhem’s name among those who love their fellow beings the angel vanishes. To everybody’s surprise he returns the next night with a new set of names of people, who have been blessed by God. The word Lo! also adds to the climax as it is the height of surprise for Ben Adhem who sees what the angel has written,
“And Lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest”
and the poem ends with its climax.
5. Based on the above extract bring out the main theme of the poem.
A5. The theme of the poem is that God loves those who love their fellowmen. Love of fellow human beings is the best type of worship. Abou Ben Adhem’s name was on the top of the list of those who loved their fellowmen. The poet through the example of Abou Ben Adham teaches us to love our fellowmen if we want to be blessed by God’s love. He, who is gentle, patient and loving to God’s creatures will receive a great reward – love of his Lord.
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