A Friend in Need

Meanings of “A Friend in Need”

This phrase “a friend in need” is part of a proverb “a friend in need is a friend indeed.”  This proverb means that a true friend always shows up when least expected during the time of need and also means that a true friend knows our problems without sharing and helps without being asked. However, its meanings can change with the change in the place of comma such as “a friend in need is a friend indeed” can be changed to “a friend, in need, is indeed a true friend” and likewise. It depends on the context of the use of this full proverb.

Origin of “A Friend in Need”

Its origin is traced back to Grecian philosophers Ennius 169BC who stated, “a sure friend is known in unsure times” and Euripides in 424BC who said, “it is in trouble’s hour that the good most clearly show their friendship; though prosperity by itself in every case finds friends”.

Another origin is traced to Sonnes of Aymon written by Caxton in 1489 – “It is sayd, that at the nede the frende is knowen”.

However, John Heywood has stated different variation of this proverb in his A Dialogue Conteynyng Prouerbes and Epigrammes, “A friend is never known till a man have need.”

Examples from Literature

Example #1

A Friend In Need Is A Friend Indeed by Rajaram Ramachandran

Two friends went to a forest.
One was very much honest,
And the other one was very bad,
Daily, for their livelihood.

One day, they saw a wild bear,
Almost coming close, very near.
The bad man climbed a nearby tree,
But the other one couldn’t reach the tree.

He lied below the tree, posing as dead,
As he knew well, bears touch not any dead.
Without moving his limbs, he held his breath.
The bear smelt his body lying in close to death.

After it went away without harming him,
The man from the tree asked him,
What the bear whispered into his ears,
When he remained with closed eyes?

‘The bear told me not to trust such
Selfish friends like you, very much,
And also said that a friend in need,
Is really a friend indeed.’

Rajaram Ramachandran is an Indian poet who has written this children’s story into poetry. He has neatly rhymed every stanza to reach the moral lesson that ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’. The poem not only teaches children this moral lesson but also relates the relevant tale to instill this moral lesson into their minds.

Example #2

The Passionate Pilgrim by William Shakespeare

“He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need:
If thou sorrow, he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep:
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part.
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe.”

This short poetic extract is taken from a poetic collection of William Shakespeare’s The Passionate Pilgrim. Although the phrase is not used exactly in the same words, the part of the proverb is used in the first line in the same moral sense. The next part of the poem tells what a good friend must do. In fact, the last two lines of this stanza have presented the main theme that if such signs do not exist in a person, it means that he is not a faithful friend but a flattering enemy.

Example #3

“A Friend in Need” by Somerset Maugham

The use of this phrase is not shown in the true sense and is reversed to what the story narrates. Lenny and Edward are not true friends. They do not help each other in the hour of need, and they do not depict this full proverb in any way. However, Somerset Maugham’s suggestion seems to be that had they been true friends, the things might not have been the same for Lenny. In fact, it shows the thematic strand of this proverb in reverse. The story clearly shows that if Edward had felt something for Lenny, he must have helped him as his friend.

Examples in Sentences as Literary Devices

Example #1: “A friend in need is like a tool that you have in your hand, and you can use it when required.” This phrase has been used as a simile in this sentence as the word “like” shows. Here the friend a person has been compared to a tool.

Example #2: “He says that a friend in need is a friend indeed as he misses his friends when he faces difficulties.” Here the phrase has been used as a metaphor because it shows that a person who is considered a friend helps his friend when he needs it.

Example #3: “A friend in need is a need in a friend, but it works when a person is aware of the meanings of this phrase.” In this sentence, the phrase has been reversed. Therefore, it has been used as a chiasmus, which means to use the first phrase of the sentence in reverse to make the words impactful.

Example #4: “A friend in need is a friend indeed is not just an axiom but also a truth.” This sentence has two major literary devices used in it. The first is the use of consonance, that means the use of consonant sound. The consonant sound is the sound of /n/ in “a friend in need”.

Example #5: “A-friend-in-need sort of attitude sometimes repels even your best friends as you always seek the help of others to show that you need help.” This sentence shows the use of this phrase as a metaphor for attitude.