Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) was a central figure in the Romantic movement in England, but he was frustrated with his position; he wanted to be one of the nation's best Romantic poets, but he was not, and he knew it. However, he produced a prolific body of work during the first sixty years of the nineteenth century, ranging in style and length, including translations of Greek and Roman poems, translations from French and Italian, and narrative poems.
Abou Ben Adhem, first published in 1834, is one of the most anthologized works of Leigh Hunt. Hunt has claimed that it was one of the best poems written by him. There are references to islamic history in three of the poems in the first two publications of Hunt's poetry; Abou Ben Adhem is one such reference. According to available literature, Abou Ben Adhem refers to Ibrahim Ibin Adham, a Sufi of Islam. He is known as a king who ruled Balkh. A famous anecdote explains Ibrahim Ibin Adham's conversion into a religious life when, during a hunting trip, an unidentified voice advised him to repent for his sins. In fact, anecdotes about the Sufi are plenty in literature, written in languages such as Turkish, Javanese, Urdu, Malay etc. These anecdotes make references to the miracles performed by him and his generosity and kindness towards the loved ones.
Abou Ben Adhem relates to an event in the life of Ibrahim Ibin Adham, who encounters an angel who is making a list of all of those who love God. When he learns that his name is not on the list, he orders the angel to write him down as one who loves his fellow men. When the angel returns the next night with a second list, this time showing people whom God has blessed. Abou Ben Adhem's name is at the top of this list, which indicates that God blesses those who love their fellow men. From this encounter it can be seen that the best way in which we can express our love for God is to love our fellow human beings.
Although known predominantly for this poem, Hunt is better known for promoting the work of his contemporaries such as Shelly and Keats; this particular poem is still widely published and widely read; most of his works, however, are not, and scholars generally agree that Hunt did not fulfill the precocious promise he showed as a twelve year old poet, when he published his first volume of work.