A Poem and its Parody

Years ago, while reading through an old volume of G. K. Chesterton poetry, I came across this poem:


(With apologies to a Beautiful Poem)

ABOU BEN ADHEM (may his tribe decrease
By cautious birth-control and die in peace)
Mellow with learning lightly took the word
That marked him not with them that love the Lord,
And told the angel of the book and pen
“Write me as one that loves his fellow-men:
For them alone I labour; to reclaim
The ragged roaming Bedouin and to tame

To ordered service; to uproot their vine
Who mock the Prophet, being mad with wine,
Let daylight through their tents and through their lives,
Number their camels, even count their wives;
Plot out the desert into streets and squares,
And count it a more fruitful work than theirs
Who lift a vain and visionary love
To your vague Allah in the skies above.”

Gently replied the angel of the pen:
“Labour in peace and love your fellow-men:
And love not God, since men alone are dear,
Only fear God; for you have Cause to fear.”

I wondered about that apology; later I found that “The Philanthropist” is based off a famous poem by Leigh Hunt called “Abou Ben Adhem”. A Book of Treasured Poems, published in 1928, features Hunt’s poem (but not Chesterton’s, go figure):


Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight of 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 who love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

With my own apologies to the beautiful poem, I have to say I like the parody better. Over at Chesterton and Friends, “The Philanthropist” is posted with some interesting thoughts.

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