I came across this poem last week. I had to memorize it when I was in fourth or fifth standard. The meaning of the lines, “as one lamp lights another nor grows less, so nobleness enkindleth nobleness”, has stayed with me for more than seven decades and I have used them often in my own writing. Hope you love this amazing poem by Lowell as much as I do. (ZSA)

James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

A STRANGER came one night to Yussouf’s tent,  

Saying, “Behold one outcast and in dread,     

Against whose life the bow of power is bent,

Who flies, and hath not where to lay his head;        

I come to thee for shelter and for food,          5

To Yussouf, called through all our tribes ‘The Good.’”  


“This tent is mine,” said Yussouf, “but no more     

Than it is God’s; come in, and be at peace;    

Freely shalt thou partake of all my store        

As I of his who buildeth over these                10

Our tents his glorious roof of night and day, 

And at whose door none ever yet heard Nay.”        


So Yussouf entertained his guest that night,  

And, waking him ere day, said: “Here is gold,         

My swiftest horse is saddled for thy flight,             15

Depart before the prying day grow bold.”      

As one lamp lights another, nor grows less,   

So nobleness enkindleth nobleness.      


That inward light the stranger’s face made grand,   

Which shines from all self-conquest; kneeling low,         20

He bowed his forehead upon Yussouf’s hand,        

Sobbing: “O Sheik, I cannot leave thee so;    

I will repay thee; all this thou hast done

Unto that Ibrahim who slew thy son!”  


“Take thrice the gold,” said Yussouf, “for with thee                 25

Into the desert, never to return,    

My one black thought shall ride away from me;     

First-born, for whom by day and night I yearn,      

Balanced and just are all of God’s decrees;    

Thou art avenged, my first-born, sleep in peace!”


The photo above was taken by me in Colorado when i went to visit my nephew Masood (wanderlust) in August of last year.

About Zakiah

I write poetry and some fiction, have a book that was published in 2012. . . Stray Thoughts/Winged Words. I have four grandchildren, ages 16 and half to almost 16 months. I love the ocean, and grew up along the Indian Ocean in South India. I am a retired physician. Don't know much else to say. Thanks for reading. That has been my profile for so many years. My daughter Saadia a great poet and story teller, has two sons; the oldest grandson is now 21 years old, doing architectural engineering at Missouri S&T in Rolla MO. His younger brother is almost 16 and taking driving lessons seriously and is in High School. The other two grandsons, children of my son Sayeed, are 9 and 5. I have recently published another book titled Gulistan, A home of Flowers. It has stories and memories of my childhood and of a distant land which I still consider as my HOME., even though I have lived here in the US for more than fifty years. Hope to see you on my blog.
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22 Responses to Avenged

  1. This poem led me to look more about James Russeel-Lowel, a brillant poet , very courageous . The content made me think of the Genesis . Ibrahim got a visitor who announces he will have children .
    I thank you , Zakiah, to teach me about this American author ( I did not know him)
    Your photo is also very inspiring

    Love ❤

    • Zakiah says:

      Thank you dear Michel. I have loved this poem for as long as I remember. What agony the father must have felt to help the man who had slain his only son!

  2. michnavs says:

    Ahhhh reminded me of my days as an educator when i used to teach literary criticism. This is one of those pieces that would always trigger endless arguements among my students, which i actually love to witness them do that as in most cases they realized they can improve thier literary craft when pushed up to a certain limit..

    Thank you for sharing this..

  3. kim says:

    Wow. No wonder you’ve never forgotten that poem! “…Sobbing: “O Sheik, I cannot leave thee so;
    I will repay thee; all this thou hast done

    Unto that Ibrahim who slew thy son!”

    “Take thrice the gold,” said Yussouf, “for with thee

    Into the desert, never to return,

    My one black thought shall ride away from me; …”
    AND that photo of yours. ❤

    • Zakiah says:

      Kim, than you for the understanding and for the comment on this poem. It touches the depths of the heart doesn’t it. I am so delighted that you understood it, and why wouldn’t you? You are such a master of literature.
      Thank you.

  4. mrswrangler says:

    An interesting poem.

  5. slmret says:

    That’s quite a poem for a school kid to have to memorize (and understand!). And the photo is spectacular!

    • Zakiah says:

      Memorization of prose passages and poems was a BIG DEAL in the convent where I studied. I had a fantastic teacher (Nun) who instilled the love of poetry in me.

      Masood, my nephew had driven me about fifteen or twenty miles out of Denver just so I could view the mountains at sunset. Love it so much.

  6. What a poem and it would not have been easy to memorize. I will have to come back to this poem and find out more about the poet.

    • Zakiah says:

      OH Matt, thank you for appreciating the poem. This is one of my all time favorite classics in Poetry. Something like Yeats, and his Ode to his Love.

  7. Rupali says:

    An interesting share and I really love “as one lamp lights another nor grows less, so nobleness enkindleth nobleness”.

    • Zakiah says:

      I have loved those lines from this poem so much. I am almost an octogenarian, and for all these decades, I have never been able to forget these lines. My own life I try to live up to them.

  8. murisopsis says:

    I love that poem! I see why you memorized it. Of course the photo is stunning and fits with the poem perfectly!

  9. What a powerful poem!

    I’m so happy when teachers require students to do some memorization of poems. 🙂 And it seems the younger we memorized them, the longer they stay with us. And even if we don’t remember the whole poem, word for word, we remember the important lines and the gist of the poem. Which is so important! 🙂

    It is wonderful you took on the challenge, memorized it, remember it, and shared it with us! 🙂 Thank you! 🙂

    And your photo…Wow! That is such a beautiful capture…it brought joy-tears to my eyes!

    • Zakiah says:

      I studied in a Catholic institution, and my teachers were amazing in making us learn the most beautiful passages and interpret them in our own words. Yousouf was one like that. Unforgettable and profound.

  10. Gorgeous poem! I don’t think I’d read it before, but it is unforgettable.

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