The late Muhammad Iqbal (1873-1938) has been called a philosopher-poet. That is only partly correct. From the second half of his middle period onwards he may very well be called a mystic poet as well, in the truest sense of that much-misused term.
In his later days Iqbal ceased to write long didactic poems of the type of "Complaint" and "Reply to Complaint" which had made him famous earlier. At this period he no more reasons like a philosopher, suspecting all authority in the spirit of philosophy, which is that of free inquiry. He transcends intellect and enters the domain of faith - iman. He now frankly recognises the incapacity of discursive reason to reach the Ultimate Reality, for, he says:
"With (the help of) intellect the wayfarer gains sight (of the way):
What is intellect? It is "but a lamp on the highway:
(But) What (actually) is happening within the Abode?
What knowledge does the wayside lamp possess of that?"
And so he turns to faith - iman - which is the essence of religion. Iqbal says:
"...faith like the bird sees its 'trackless way' unattended by intellect which, in the words of the great mystic poet of Islam (Rumi), only waylays the living heart of man and robs it of its invisible wealth of life that lies within'".
Iqbal says in another place:-
"Beyond the limits of (scientific) knowledge, for the man of faith (mu'min),
There is a savour of eager desire and the (Divine) favour of sight (of the Beloved)"
It is to this period, which may be called the period of faith, in the evolution of Iqbal, the man and the poet, that most of his famous ghazals belong. Iqbal's conception of faith is of interest. He says:
"Faith is more than mere feeling. It has something like a cognitive content, and the existence of rival parties - scholastics and mystics - in the history of religion shows that idea is a vital element in religion."
What then is religion? Quoting a modern European thinker, Iqbal writes:
"Religion on its doctrinal side, as defined by Professor Whitehead, is a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming the character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended."
Iqbal's apprehension of these "general truths" was vivid and sincere to the degree of transforming his character. This cannot be doubted.
Like another great philosopher-poet of Hindustan, the great Ghalib, Iqbal composed ghazals both in Persian and Urdu. Again, as in the case of Ghalib, it is Iqbal's Urdu ghazals that have attained to an unrivalled popularity today, although, like Ghalib, Iqbal valued more highly his Persian poems, the intrinsic worth of which remains high.
Except that Iqbal seldom places his name in the last couplet, or anywhere else in the ghazal, his technique follows the well-known forms of Persian poetry. But not so his subjects. Iqbal stands unique in the selection of themes for his ghazals. In these the deep self-forgetfulness of Hafiz, the nihilism of Omar Khayyam, the gul (rose) and bulbul (nightingale), sentimentalism of Persian and Urdu poets are all conspicuous by their absence. In their place we find vigour, freshness of subject and expression, boldness and deep emotional insight - the kind of emotional insight that has a definite cognitive content. Iqbal is nothing if not positive, frank and spontaneous. It is only in Ghalib that one finds most of these qualities. One may consider it a portentous sign of the times that Iqbal is not only so well appreciated but is actually being imitated in thought and expression by the younger poets of Pakistan today.
In a free rendering of a poem, which is also a translation into another language, it is impossible to convey all the delicate shades of meaning and feeling of the original. The following prose renderings of some of Iqbal's Urdu Ghazals from his Bal-e-Jibril are presented only with a view to giving some inkling of the poet's feelings and thoughts to those unacquainted with his original works. These ghazals belong to his later middle period and may be taken as illustrations of one aspect of the mature Iqbal and the universality of his message. The philosophic undercurrent in all of them, coupled with deep feeling, is worthy of notice.
"Jab ishq sikhata hai adabe khud agahi"
(Only) When love teaches the etiquette of self-knowledge,
Are the Imperial Mysteries revealed to the slaves!
Whether it be Attar or Rumi, Razi or Ghazali,
Nothing comes to hand without supplication in the early dawn
Do not lose hope in them, 0' wise guide!
Even though the wayfarers are slow-moving,
They are not without zeal (to reach the goal)!
0' bird of the Divine Regions! Death is better for you than that bread -
The bread which may hinder you from soaring (to heavenly heights)!
That faqir is better than Darius or Alexander
In whose poverty is the fragrance of (the self-imposed poverty of Ali) the "Lion of God"!
The law of brave men is truth-telling and fearlessness;
The lions of God know not foxiness!
"Sitaron se aage jahan aur bhi hain"
Beyond the stars are yet other worlds:
There are yet more trials of love ahead!
These extensive vistas do not exist in the void of lower life:
There are hundreds of other caravans here!
Do not lose yourself by being enmeshed in this day and night (i.e. in serial time):
You have yet another Time (as pure Duration) and yet other spaces (to conquer)!
Do not be content with this world of colour and scent:
There are yet other gardens; other nests!
You are the royal falcon; soaring is your pursuit:
Before you are yet other firmaments (to soar up to)!
Why grieve if this one nest be lost?
There are yet more places for clamor and complaint!
The days are gone when I was alone in thin gathering:
Now here I have confidants as well!
"Gesooe tabdar ko aur bhi tabdar kar!"
Render Thy lustrous tresses even more lustrous! Capture my sense, my intellect! Capture my heart! -Capture my sight!
Let love be veiled, Let Beauty also be veiled; Either reveal Thou Thine Own Self, Or make Thou me manifest!
Thou art the Boundless Ocean! I am but a tiny stream: Either lead Thou me to Thine own shore
Or else make Thou me Shoreless! ' ;
If I am a full shell (containing a pearl), The lustre (and renown) of my pearl is in thy hands!
But if I am only an empty shell, Then transform me into a priceless gem!
If the (full throated) song of New Spring is not in my destiny,
Form Thou this half consuming breath of mine into (the warbling of) a little (early) spring bird!
Why (Oh why!) did'st Thou command me to go a-journeying from the Garden?
The work of the world is long (and ardous):
Now waitest Thou for my return!
When on the Day of Judgement the account of my work (in the world) is presented:
Be Thou ashamed of it! Also make Thou me ashamed!
"Yoon haath nahin aata who gohar-e Yakdana!"
That One and Only (Priceless) Pearl cannot be acquired without effort:
(Then) One-pointedness and freedom (in your effort), O manly resolve!
(Choose Thou!) Either a Tughral's or a (sultan) Sanjar's way of world conquest:
Or else the (non-conformist faqir) qalandar's rank of kingly power!
Either the astonishment (and stupefaction) of (the philosopher) al-Farabi:
Or else the restlessness of spirit of (the mystic) Rumi;
Either philosophic thought
Or else the self-absorption of Abraham (who threw himself into fire with firm faith in God)!
Either the foxiness of intellect
Or else the love of (Ali) the "Hand of Allah";
Either the (futile) stratagems and tricks of the Europeans;
Or else the (one-pointed) onslaught of the Turks!
Either the equitable Way of Islam
Or keeping the door of a (false) temple;
Or else the intoxicated shout -
Whether it be the Ka'aba or the idol-house!
Whether in the kingly state or in the state of a (poverty-stricken) faqir -
Nothing can be acquired without the daring of the intoxicated!