Faiz on Allama Iqbal By Faiz Ahmad Faiz | Wednesday, 19 Nov, 2008 | 11:30 PM PST |
We produce here Faiz Ahmad Fail’s lecture on Iqbal’s poetry ‘which he delivered sometime back. It should be interesting for our readers to read the critical appreciation of Iqbal’s art by one of the most important poets of our times:
I wish to talk to you today on a rather neglected aspect of Iqbal’s works, namely, the artistic aspect of what you might call the purely poetic aspect. As you are no doubt aware, there are a number of studies on the thought, philosophy, message in Iqbal’s works; but so far as I am aware very little analysis has been done of his poetic technique or the secret of his poetic magic. For this the poet himself is partly responsible because, as you are aware, there are a number of injunctions in Iqbal’s works imploring his readers to ignore his poetry and to concentrate on his message.
It is also due, I suppose, partly to the very low social evaluation that we put on the poet or the artist in the country. The serious people among us consider a poet to be a rather disreputable character who is not to be taken very seriously. If they wish to elevate his worth then they must classify him among thinkers, or philosophers or preachers on even politicians — a poet as such is not worth much bothering about.
I suppose Iqbal was aware of this prejudice and did not want to get mixed up with those decadent songsters with which our community abounds. Anyway I am not going to quarrel with this approach today. I merely wanted to say that whatever the rights or the wrongs of this approach there is no doubt that a poet of Iqbal’s calibre would be great by whatever name you call him.
The one thing which I dont think will be seriously contested is that even though Iqbal was a philosopher, a thinker, an evangelist and even a preacher, the real force and persuasiveness of his message was his poetry. This is borne out by the fact that his prose lectures, excellent as they are, have hardly a fraction of the readers that his poetry has, and hardly command a fraction of the influence that his poetry has wielded on more than one generation. In more than one country. This by itself should be a sufficient proof that in addition to his thought the supplemental excellence of his poetry is not only important but it is all-important.
Therefore, I think, it is worthwhile to pay some attention to the purely poetic side of his works. In the very brief time that if available to me, I can only indicate a few focal points from which this study might be made. I have no time to either elaborate or illustrate these points but I think most of them are so well known that my elaboration would hardly be necessary. First of all I might clarify that Iqbal was himself deathly opposed to art for art’s sake and therefore, we cannot study his art or his style or his technique or his other poetic qualities in isolation from his theme because even though there is a steady progression in his style yet all these styles were fashioned according to the themes which he was trying to put across.
Therefore, the evolution of his style is parallel to the evolution of his thought and it would be superficial and misleading to study one in isolation from the other. Keeping that in mind, if you look at Iqbal’s works, the first thing that strikes you in a very strong contrast between the style and expression of his nature and later works. The second thing that strikes you is that in spite of these, differences there is a continuity in all his works.
I think this is due to two reasons: Apart from his juvenile and very early works, even the things that he wrote about in his youth are imbued with a sense of solemnity and earnestness which persist throughout his works. The second reason for this continuity is the element of quest and inquiry —a persistent desire to know and to explore the secrets of reality, the secrets of existence. Now these two subjective elements provide the continuity of his works while the content provides an element of evolution. How does this evolution take place? What are the elements in this evolution? I would say these are four elements, each determined bv the progression in his thought.
Firstly, the style of his earlier works as you know, is ornate, florid, Persianised, obviously under the influence of Bedil, Naziri, Ghalib and the school of Indo-Persian poets which was popular with our intelligentsia in the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th. This is generally the style which is, as you see, a bit florid, a bit diffused, a bit undefined. So you find that so far as the pure style is concerned the progression in his works is from ornateness and ornamentation to austerity, from diffuseness to precision, from rhetoric to epigram. It does not require any great elaboration because it so obviously strikes one.
In his later works all the ornamentation has been cut out. There is no imagery or hardly any imagery. There is hardly any element of the sensory or the perceptive. The approach is purely cognitive and intellectual, austere and precise. This is a process of reduction, or what I might call contraction. The other is the process of expansion. This process is in the thought, in theme; because Iqbal begins with himself in his very early works, in the works that he wrote in his youth. He talks about himself, about his love, about his ‘grief’, about his loneliness, about his disappointments. Then from himself, he progresses to the Muslim community, to the Muslim world, in the latter half of Bang-i-Dara. From the Muslim world he goes further to mankind and from mankind to the universe.
So, beginning with himself, his thought progresses to the cosmos and his thought determines the style and the expression which he uses. In his earlier works when he is talking about disjointed things, about sensations, about perceptions, about experiences, about subjective bits and pieces, the style is also disjointed; it is varied sometimes simple, sometimes ornate. Later on when his own whole thought is welded into one monolith, his style becomes monolithic. It becomes almost uniform, having no ups and downs prefectly keeping the same pace and the same level. That is the second progression.
The third progression is a process of what you might call interaction. In his earlier works, for instance, there are a number of poems on the sun, the moon, the clouds, the mountains, the rivers, cities. Later on when he developed his thought, then everything, the whole universe, is really welded together by this single concept that Iqbal has evolved with regard to the role of man in the universe and destiny. When he has determined this role then everything falls into its place. In his later works if you find poems about natural phenomena, ‘Shab-i-Taab’, ‘Shaheen’, the moon and the sun, then they are no longer external phenomena; they are purely symbols, symbols to illustrate some inner subjective theme which Iqbal wants to illustrate through these objects.
He is not interested in the eagle or ‘Shaheen’ as such. I don’t think he has ever described what the Eagle looks like. He is not interested in the fire-fly as such; nor in the Eagle or the moon or the sun; they are no longer for him external objects but merely symbols to illustrate certain themes.
This is the third progression in his works and style, the progression which interacts disjointed experiences into a single whole through a process which is both intellectual and emotional.And fourthly there is a transition in emotional climate. In his earlier works you will see that the world he is fond of is ‘Mohabbat’; whereas in his later works, as you are all aware, the main burden of his song is ‘Ishq’. But you hardly find this word ‘Mohabbat’ later on in his mature works where the word used is always ‘Ishq’. So, this is the progression from sentiment to passion.
A progression from a purely external attachment to something which comes from within is something which is the essence of your being, something which is not a trait that makes you love certain things or hate certain things, but the innate fire, which is all-consuming. I want to emphasise another point. When Iqbal attained to his mature style, a style which is solemn, austere and unornamented, then how does he heighten his statement? How does he compensate for the absence of the other ornaments that poets generally use. The thrills with which poets generally attract attention?
This, I think, is a fascinating subject and little study has been done on it. Three or four things are very obvious which no one has attempted in Urdu poetry before. For instance, one thing which is completely Iqbal’s addition to the poetic style in Urdu is the use of proper names. Apart from one or two names which have been traditionally used like Majnoon, Farhad, Laila and Shirin proper names are not a part of our poetic vocabulary. It was Iqbal. I think, who for the first time, popularised the use of proper names.
You will see a profusion of such names as Koofa, Hejaz, Iraq, Furai, Ispahan, Samarkand, Koh-i-Azam Nawin-in- Kazima. Qurtuba, etc. Knowing the poetic implication of these, when you come across a proper name like this, you do not need any simile or any metaphor. This word by itself evokes a sense of distance, a sense of time, a sense of remoteness and what you might call a sense of the romantic because romance after all is a sense of distance, of distance either in space or in time.
So, this use of the proper name is something which compensates for the absence of other ornamentation in Iqbal. The second thing Which he does is the use of words which are simple but unfamiliar, words which are neither difficult nor obscure, words which are crystal clear and yet were never vocalised before — words like ‘Nakheel’ ‘Tailsan’ and ‘Parnian’.
Similarly you will find a number of such words which Iqbal has deliberately introduced. Everybody knows what ‘Khutoot-i-Khamdar’ is. ‘Mariz’ is rather an unfamiliar word but even so it is intelligible. This is his second, what you might call, trick; but I would rather call it his second weapon, to relieve the austerity of his statement to heighten the emotive atmosphere of his verse. The third element which he employs is to use unfamiliar meters, as for instance the meter of Masjid-i-Qurtuba.
He has used at least half a dozen meters which were not used in Urdu poetrv before and which he initiated for the first time. Thus he creates a sense of unfamiliarity bv unfamiliar meeting of unfamiliar words, bv the use of proper names and. above all by a verv verv contrived pattern of sounds. The poet has used the patterns of consonantal and vowel sounds deliberately as Iqbal has done. He does not go after the obvious tricks like onomatopoeia and assonance.
You will find that his phonetic arrangement of consonants and of vowels is very deliberate. The only other poet who does it in that way is, as far as I know. Hafiz. But in Urdu no such thing was known before Iqbal. Nobody has used a whole line or passage as a deliberate sound spectrum. These. I think, are some of the stylistic elements which are very characteristic of Iqbal. If you study Iqbal you find that this was the only style which could fit, the ultimate which he evolved during the course of his poetic career. This ultimate theme, as far as I know, has many aspects, and one can choose any aspect that he likes. But I think the final theme that Iqbal arrived at was the world of man—man and his universe, man against the universe, man in the universe or man in relation to the universe. I mipht point out that in spite of Iqbal’s deep devotion to reflection he never mentions the other world or hardly ever mentions the other world.
There is verv little talk of the hereafter in his poetry. There is no mention of any rewards or any punishments in the other world, for the very simple reason that since he is the poet of struggle, of evolution, of man’s fight against the hostile forces ot nature, the forces hostile to the spirit of man, the hereafter in which there is no action, in which there is no struggle, is entirely irrelevant to his thought.
Anyway the ultimate thing is this theme, the theme of man and the universe of man, of man’s loneliness and of man’s grandeur. He speaks of man’s loneliness because man is pitted against so many enemies. First against the forces within him, like the forces of greed, cowardliness, of selflishness. exploitation, and secondly the forces outside him like the forces of inanimate hostile nature. So. he speaks of man as a small atom of passion set against the entire universe. Of emptiness in that man is the only creature to accept the challenge of creation, man, the microcosm of pain, accepts the challenge of the stars and the moon and the sun and the universe. It is this great theme which elevates the verse of lqbal, towards the end of his days, from the beautiful to the sublime.