The English-reading public has so far the opportunity to judge the poetical gifts of Sir Muhammad Iqbal in two styles of writing: the masnavi, through Professor R.A. Nicholsons translation of the Asrar-i Khudi (Secrets of the Self), and the quatrain, by my own rendering of the Lala-i-Thr (Tulip of Sinai"). Those familiar with Iqbals poetry are however aware that, remarkable as he was as a writer in these two forms, he possessed an altogether extraordinary talent for that most delicate and delightful of all Persian styles, the ghazal. It was principally with the object of making available some specimens in translation of his lyrical productions, that I approached the task of putting into English his Zabur-i Ajam (Persian Psalms). The result is now in the hands of the reader.
Those who are unfamiliar with the Persian language, and who have .little or no acquaintance with the ghazal, may at their first meeting find this form of composition in some ways difficult to understand and appreciate; a few words on its fundamental structure, its traditional characteristics, and the particular use Iqbal made of it, may therefore be useful.
The Persian ghazal has a thousand years of history behind it, having evolved as a literary form some time during the ninth or tenth century A D Quite early in its long career, it accepted certain fairly rigid conventions. Not only was its range of subject severely restrictedprimarily a vehicle for the amatory passion, it ranged over the various phases and moods of lovebut the very images which the poet might employ were limited in kind and number. The poem was fixed at a length ranging generally from five to nine or eleven couplets, each couplet having a common rhyme. The most outstanding characteristic of the ghazal is therefore its conventionality, which, in a poet of less than the first rank, quickly degenerates into artificiality. The skill of the ghazal-writer is shown by the success with which, while adhering faithfully to the limitations prescribed for him by the inventors of his art, he nevertheless contrives by means of his virtuosity and inventiveness to develop the form one stage further. Such masters have been few and greatly honoured in Persian literature; most celebrated of them are Sanai, Attar, Rumi, Sadi. Hafiz and Jami.
Iqbal accepted the ghazal as he found it, with all its age-long rigidity of form and matter; and, with the true touch of genius, he took it one stage forward. While remaining absolutely true to both pattern and image, he gave the form a new meaning by making it express his individual message. The ghazal had been put to a variety of derived uses by the old masters; the panegyrists had taken the love-motive and directed it to patron-flattery; the mystics had used the language of human passion to express their devotion to God. Nor for the first time the ancient form was made to clothe the body of a new philosophy. What that philosophy is, the reader may discover by consulting the extensive literature on lqbal, especially Iqbal as a Thinker, B.A. Dars Study in Iqbals Philosophy and S.A. Vahids Iqbal, his Art and Thought, all of which have been published by Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf of Lahore. When he has attentively studied these expositions of Iqbals thought, he will be ready to recognise the special meanings which lie behind the poets use of common words and images, and he will be able to admire the astonishing freshness and beauty, the amazing range and depth of his expression.
He will find himself in a new world of thought and feeling, a world vibrant with hope and high endeavour, a world revealing the vision of a great thinker who saw in these sorely troubled times the dawn of a new age.
In making these translations it has been my constant care to remain as close and faithful to the original language of Iqbal as possible within the limits of a foreign idiom; I have striven not to allow the requirements of metre and rhyme to compress or expand or in any way, to change the contents of the original. it is for the reader to judge the extent of my success or failure.
It remains for rue to make grateful acknowledgement of the generosity with which Mr. Javid Iqbal, the poets son, and Khan Bahadur Chaudhuri Muhammad Hussain, his executor, have permitted me to publish without payment of copyright these translations of the Zabur-i Ajam.
I am under a particularly deep obligation to Maulana Abdul Majid Salik, the learned scholar and journalist, who read through my translations in manuscript and made numerous corrections and suggestions which I have been glad to adopt. I hold myself to have been extremely fortunate to have this generous assistance from a distinguished man who knew Sir Muhammad Iqbal so well, and whose interpretation of his ideas and writings is therefore of the highest authority.
A. J. ARBERRY