Friday, July 14, 2006

A forgotten poem.

A few days back, appreciating somebody, I found myself quipping, "May his tribe increase". I stopped with surprise, for it had been years since I used that expression.

I learnt this phrase from a poem, "Abu Ben Adhem" by Leigh Hunt, which we had learnt and memorized sometime in school.

At first read, the first line "Abu Ben Adhem (May his tribe increase)" had seemed a very funny thing to say. I had assumed that Abu Ben Adhem was the headman of a tribe in the forest, and the poet is just hoping that his tribe prospers. Until our English teacher explained what it really meant. We kids, of course, used it at every opportunity, regardless of context, over the next couple of days.

The dreadful thing is that, now, after all these years, when I tried to recollect the name of this poem, I desperately tried to remember the name that preceded the phrase under discussion, and the only name that kept popping into my head was "Abu Bin Laden". Ugh!

15 comments:

Maverick said...

well, we didnt had the poem, can u explain wat ur english teacher explained u :-)

Viky said...

Well, Maverick, here's the poem. Shru will do all the explaining... :-)

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!

Inder said...

abu bin laden... may his tribe increase... god save the world.

travel plaza said...

Interesting read as always Shruthi.

Nirwa said...

Oh my god! I remember studying this poem way back in school.. 3rd or 4th maybe..

Aah.. school memories returned! And Viky, thank you so much for the whole poem!! Brought a smile on my face! :-)

And Shruthi, that was a great name to think of! :P

Nirwa

Shruthi said...

Maverick: We-ell.. it just means, may there be more people like him :)

Viky: Err... I really don' think I know the meaning of the poem :D

Inder: Heh heh... that's exactly what crossed my mind too :D

Travel Plaza: Thank you! :)

Nirwa:Grrr.. I have given you the link, and you thank Viky... grrr grrr :D
Sigh.. Nirwa, might be a great name, but see what the meaning turns otu to be!

sangeeta said...

Hey Shruthi!! Been a faithful reader of your blog, just haven't left comments on here yet. But this time I *had* to since this was one of my most favourite poems ever back in kiddie school :)

Excellent blog!! :)

Shruthi said...

Sangeeta: Thank you dearie :)

Viky said...

Sheesh...for a moment I was thinking how Sangeetha of Tangled Webs came here...

I have to stop reading both of you in tandem...

Shruthi said...

Viky: ROFL!! Strangely, when answering this Sangeeta, I also remembered Sangeeta of tangled webs! :) See what a hold she has upon us :D

Anonymous said...

LOL, Viky, Shruthi - you guys are nuts! I read sangeeta’s comment last night, and it didn’t even strike me! Shame on me, right? :P

ano

Shruthi said...

Ano:See what an impression you have made on us :D
And yeah shame on you indeed :D Heh heh.. btw the same topic has continued in the comments on the next post too!

Bhargav said...

Am so sorry that you got it wrong...”Abu bin laden”. I still remember some lines of the poem:
Abu Ben Adhem
May his tribe increase
Awoke one night
From a deep dream of peace...
Man...that drove chills in my spine while typing. I remember this well cause we were made to memorize it. Moreover, my mom read it to me and explained it to me. It’s so crystal clear.
Also, do you recollect the poem 'kari mari nayi knyu gudu thithu' which our kannada meshtru taught us? I just remember the first 4 lines. It has been imprinted in my memory and might remain till the end!!

Shruthi said...

Bhargav: Yeah :) You will have to explain that poem to me then! Your great friend does not even remember it :D
Heyyy I remember Karimari naayi! I remember that you guys in the A section had parodied it to suit people of your class :)
That poem had a great rhythm, and a very important lesson too. Loved it.

Lyle F. Padilla said...

I'll always remember this poem for one reason.

Back in the late 1960s when I was in 6th Grade in Elementary School, our teacher, a woman in her fifties, made us memorize it and each recite it individually in front of the class. Nobody enjoyed doing this and most of us ended up hating this poem because of it. It was rote memorization without learning to appreciate the message in the poem.

The next year we moved on to 7th Grade in Junior High. One day, our Language Arts teacher, Mr. Campbell (who was in his mid-twenties), said, "I'm going to read you a poem, and I want you to think about its message." Then he started reciting:

Abou Ben adhem (may his tribe increase!)...

Our entire class collectively rolled our eyes and then recited in a flat, unison monotone:

Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room...


Mr. Campbell flushed and looked at the class a little irritatedly, and then I raised my hand and said, "Uh, Mr. Campbell, last year Mrs. Mitchell made us all memorize it."

Mr. Campbell then shouted, "THAT IS THE STUPIDEST THING I'VE EVER HEARD!" and proceeded into a rant about the uselessness of memorization without meaning.

I still remember it 40 years later because it was the first time I ever heard a teacher publicly criticize to his students what another teacher had done. Ironically, I could only remember the first verse, the last line, and one or two others in the middle until I found this blog!

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