ABOU BEN ADHEM

Stained Glass by Edward Coley Burne-Jones

Following my previous blog, here is a further poem by The Victorian poet, Leigh Hunt, and extremely popular in the early 20th Century for for being learnt by heart in schools.

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.

. . .

Jenny Kiss’d Me

LEIGH  HUNT  (1784–1859)  was an essayist, journalist and poet of the Romantic Period in English Literature.  Not perhaps one of the leading Romanticists, but he, nevertheless, did much to bring their poetry to prominence in the early 19th century, particularly through his friendships with Shelley, Keats and Byron, and by means of his editorship of the influential literary magazine, The ‘Examiner.’

A short poem of his, which I’ve long enjoyed for its sweetness and simplicity, is Leigh Hunt’s verse, originally entitled ‘Rondeau’, but more generally known as ‘Jenny kiss’d Me’.

This charming poem is said to have been inspired by a meeting, following an illness, with the wife of his friend, the eminent historian Thomas Carlyle.

JENNY KISS’D ME  . . .  By Leigh Hunt (1838

Jenny kiss’d me when we met,

Jumping from the chair she sat in;

Time, you thief, who love to get

Sweets into your list, put that in!

Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,

Say that health and wealth have missed me,

Say I’m growing old, but add

Jenny kiss’d me.

Ogden Nash – The Sunset Years of Samuel Shy

 (Poem No.49 of my favourite short poems)

Jenny Kissed Me

The Sunset Years of Samuel Shy

Master I may be,
But not of my fate.
Now come the kisses, too many too late.
Tell me, O Parcae,
For fain would I know,
Where were these kisses three decades ago?
Girls there were plenty,
Mint julep girls, beer girls,
Gay younger married and headstrong career girls,
The girls of my friends
And the wives of my friends,
Some smugly settled and some at loose ends,
Sad girls, serene girls,
Girls breathless and turbulent,
Debs cosmopolitan, matrons suburbulent,
All of them amiable
All of them cordial,
Innocent rousers of instincts primordial,
But even though health and wealth
Hadn’t yet missed me,
None of them,
Not even Jenny, once kissed me.

These very same girls
Who with me have grown older
Now freely relax with a head on my shoulder,
And now come the kisses,
A flood in full spate,
The meaningless kisses, too many too late.
They kiss me hello,
Should I offer a light, there’s a kiss for reply.
They kiss me at weddings,
They kiss me at wakes,
The drop of a hat is less than it takes.
They kiss me at cocktails,
They kiss me at bridge,
It’s all automatic, like slapping a midge.
The sound of their kisses
Is loud in my ears
Like the locusts that swarm every seventeen years.

I’m arthritic, dyspeptic,
Potentially ulcery,
And weary of kisses by custom compulsory.
Should my dear ones commit me as senile demential,
It’s from kisses perfunctory, inconsequential.
Answer, O Parcae,
For fain would I know,
Where were these kisses three decades ago?

By Ogden Nash

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NOTES:

Frederic Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971) was an American poet well known for his light verse, of which he wrote over 500 pieces. With his unconventional rhyming schemes, he produced some of the best-known humorous verse. From time to time his poetry can be extremely moving and delicate with a beautiful turn of phrase – as in this particular poem where he writes of  “the meaningless kisses, too many, too late”.

 The Parcae: In ancient Roman religion and myth, these were the female personifications of destiny, often called the FATES in English.

‘Jenny kiss’d Me’  is a poem by the English essayist Leigh Hunt. It was first published in November 1838 by the Monthly Chronicle.   The poem was inspired by Jane Welsh, the wife of Thomas Carlyle. According to anthologist Martin Gardner, “Jenny kiss’d Me” was written during a flu epidemic, and refers to an unexpected visit by the recovered Hunt to the Carlyle household and being greeted by Jenny.

N.B.  I posted Leigh Hunt’s poem ‘Jenny Kissed me’  on  February 3rd, 2017.  Click this link to read it …  ‘Jenny Kissed Me’

 

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Abou Ben Adhem

Another of Leigh Hunt‘s poems (see my yesterday’s blog post)was extremely popular in the early part of the 20th Century.  Its moral message became a means of passing on to young children a homily on how they should conduct their lives.  As such it was just the poem to encourage pupils in their school to commit to memory.  My mother, who I have mentioned in a previous blog . [  q.v. @  ( August 31st 2016 … ‘A Mother’s Legacy’)  ]  had a great love of poetry deriving largely from her having memorised many poems from her school-days.  She retained these in her memory throughout her life, and she loved to recite them as she went about the house doing her daily chores.  Because of this, and without consciously setting out to do so, I have memorised these poems myself.  I am still able to recall, as with ‘Barbara Frietchie’  (Follow the above link), word-for-word the whole of this poem . . .

annunciation-angel-detail-by-burne-jones

Lanercost Priory, Norhtumbria . . .  Angel … Stained Glass – detail … by Burne-Jones  (1890)

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.
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