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Iqbal and his poetic evolution

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By Amir Suhail Wani

Art with its diverse manifestations in forms like literature, music, architecture, painting or sculpture summarise the orientation and attitude of culture and civilization towards life and universe. Art is influenced and in turn influences parameters of life. Despite the fact that numerous theories of art and diverse social, psychological and economic approaches have been developed to understand the nature and origin of art, but none of them seems so encompassing as to explain or elucidate the multiplicity of art in terms of unity of interpretation. Over centuries thinkers have differed on the very definition art. Such a severe problem is not encountered in science, which unlike art, deals with universals and objective realities. Art, on the other hand involves an overriding subjectivity and artist’s “personal element”. This makes the definition of art not only nebular but hetero polar as well. In postmodern atmosphere, the problem seems more amplified whereby all points of reference and stable basis of evaluation have been sacrificed against subjective perceptions. Understanding postmodern sensitivities one may well be aware of the fact that his definitions or perspectives may not be welcome or accepted across the board. Having accepted this axiom, one may safely, from his subjective frame go on to define art as “the creative imitation of nature and process of creation of beauty”. This attitude has not only been dominant in traditional paradigm but even the noted thinkers of nineteenth and twentieth century like Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Croce, Nietzsche and others agreed to primacy of art and its role of imitating or creating beauty and forms of beauty . Perennial philosophers and in particular Comoraswamy among them laid emphasis on metaphysical aspects of art, while as thinkers like Tolstoy, Ruskin and others highlighted the social and moral functions and responsibilities of art.


Iqbal was not only conscious but highly concerned with the role of art in defining, shaping, preserving and propagating the attitude of culture, people and civilization towards life and universe. He too, like all great thinkers, paid deep attention to art, as it was prevalent in his time. His deep and concerted study of literature of various languages had made him aware and sensitive of various dimensions and approaches of /to art and the way they reciprocally influence civilization.

It can be contested without reservation that Iqbal was, in his early years, deeply influenced by the philosophical thought of Wahdat Ul Wajood. He was simultaneously touched by classical Urdu and Persian poetry, the dominating theme of both of which was aesthetics and its various manifestations. Under the spell of this dual influence he utilised his art in imitating beauty, as it appears in forms, phenomenon and manifestations of nature. A large number of his poems from Bangi Darra revolve and explore this same theme of imitation of natural beauty. The picturesque description of nature he presented in these works of his early craftsmanship bear witness not only to his commitment to aesthetic ideal, but simultaneously highlight his mastery on the forms of poetry and dexterity of handling poetry and fulfilling its all technical, linguistic and aesthetic requisites.

Iqbal’s stay at Europe and his in depth study of the rise and fall of civilization, his urge to discover an answer to questions of existential nature, his ideological engagement with diverse religious and political ideologies, his comparative evaluation of Eastern and Western modes of living pushed him hard against the walls of life. This was simultaneously the period of his intensive philosophical study, an approach which made him to suffer at the hands of scepticism, pessimism and possibly nihilism. The conflict within him had attained such a crest that he wrote to Sheikh Abdul Qadir that he no longer intended to continue his poetry. Whatever little Iqbal wrote during this period bears vivid stamp of wandering and an evolving spirit. This period changed not only the content of his poetry, but his understanding of poetry itself was very much reshaped during this period. It was at the culmination of this era that he started deeply contemplating the issues facing Muslim world, humanity, man, society and institutions that lie at the center and on the periphery of human consciousness. “Asrar I Khudi”, the later day ideological cannon that he wrote around 1915 was actually the aftermath of this period of solitary contemplation.

The third stage of his poetry starts with premise “Aflaak se aata hai naloo ka jawab aakhir”. Having long thought about man and his destiny, society and its pathology, Iqbal started looking for answers to these questions from Quran and his Quranic wisdom rose to such a zenith that he not only discovered panacea to the problems of humanity from Qur’anic idiom but also envisioned the further possibilities of man and earmarked the orbits of his spiritual flight. Thus whatever Iqbal wrote during this period simultaneously addressed the soul and body of human civilization and this is what he saw as the apogee of humanity – the discipline of body and its subservience to spiritual objectives of soul. No doubt, this period saw Iqbal’s writings on diverse issues that are at times seemingly contradictory, but at the base of it rested his loyalty to human ego and possibilities of its future and further expansion within the framework of given socio-cultural constraints.

Iqbal is a typical example of rust can loosely be called as “Expansion of poetic experience”. He benefitted from poets like Goethe, Dante, Rumi, Emerson, Bedil, Nazeeri and spectrum of others. In doing so he captured in his bosom the good from all and simultaneously maintained his own independent course of evolution. What Iqbal, as a poet, has special to offer is an approach of drawing upon from multiple sources but simultaneously maintaining an independent critical attitude – an attitude required of each poet. This attitude not only leaves open the possibilities of imitation, admiration and assimilation but more importantly envisages the realisation of possibilities that are yet buried deep inside the womb of time.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])