Contemporary Critical Theory
17th February 2014
Deconstructing The Nature Loving Romantics: Through Allama Iqbal Poetry
Romanticism was a movement that began in the 1800’s and flourished during the mid 19th century. The quintessential romantic emphasised on the imagination and emotions. Another aspect of the Romantics was the apparent connection with nature in their works - they are known to glorify the beauty of nature. Some of the popular romantics are William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Allama Iqbal was an Urdu poet who can be placed in this category, with his popularity confining largely to Pakistan and the Urdu culture. The poet often uses elements of nature as his subjects, and he converses with them, or they converse among themselves, usually teaching some moral - be it about beauty, truth or life. But do the romantics really “love” nature? While on one hand it is very apparent that Iqbal glorifies nature, if one takes into account his manner of glorification, it points to another direction. This short research paper will attempt to deconstruct some of Iqbal’s poetry, especially cases where there are references to nature, to indicate that it isn’t nature that is glorified, but instead generic element or object characteristics.
Intro to the poet: Allama Iqbal
Iqbal is one of the most well known Urdu poets, and is usually associated with words like “great”, “remarkable” and “musical” (KC Kanda, Introduction). Students of Urdu even today are taught from childhood to begin the day by reciting a “prayer”, Iqbal’s poem - Bachche Ki Dua (Child’s Prayer). With poems written in both Urdu and Persian, he is spoken in the same breath as to another great Urdu poet - Mirza Ghalib, at times to the extent that some, like Abdul Qadir in his introduction to Bang-e-dara, believe him to be a reincarnation of Ghalib. Iqbal went to England in 1905, and remained in Europe for about three years. Its the time during which the Romantic era was coming to its end, being replaced by movements like Realism. Its perhaps from here that he developed a style similar to the Romantics - especially his constant themes of nature - reflected particularly in his poem Ek Sham (One Evening). In the poem there are apparent references or use of nature - moon, trees, birds etc. These references are found not only here, but in many of his poems; like Himalaya, Phool (Flower), Bazm-e-Anjum (The Assembly of Stars), Chaand (The Moon), Aftaab (The Sun) and so on.
Deconstruction is a post-structuralist theory initiated by Derrida. It involves de-centering of a main idea which otherwise stabilizes a system. For the romantics, the central ideas are imagination, emotions and nature. This paper will attempt to deconstruct a few lines from the book “Allama Iqbal” which consists of selected poems of Iqbal by K.C Kanda.
The poem Himala (The Himalaya) is about the Himalayas, a mountain range in Asia that separates the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. Iqbal venerates this huge mountain range in this poem. Consider the first two lines (translation in brackets):
Ai Himala! Ai faseel-e-kishwar-e-Hindustan!
Choomta hai teri peshaani ko jhuk kar aasmaan.
(O Himalaya, Hindustan’s great defensive wall,
The sky bends to kiss your brow, salutes your stature tall.)
He calls The Himalayas as India’s “great defensive wall”. The mountain range is honoured and thought highly of, but it is done so by comparing it to a great wall - what could easily be a human construction, or simply a large structure. If the focus here is shifted from The Himalayas to its comparison, one could see that a “wall” is being equated to a mountain range that has the planets biggest of peaks. In other words, walls are being venerated.
Similarly, he says that the sky “salutes” the mountains. While the poet indicates that the mountains are so high and mighty that even the magnificent sky salutes it, it also suggests that the action of salutation - which is nothing but a human gesture - is that of the highest order. There are also other lines where human gestures or actions are given tributes to. Consider the following lines:
Haaey kya fart-e-tarab mein jhoomta jaata hai abr,
Feel-e-be zanjeer ki soorat ura jaata hai abr.
(Mark, how it sways and swings, the cloud on your mountain peaks,
As if an elephant just unbound, rolls on with flying feet.)
Here he says the clouds “sways and swings”, like an elephant that “rolls” on its feet. On one hand the movement of clouds on the mountain peaks are admired, it is in fact the actions of swinging, swaying and rolling that is celebrated.
There are instances where human body garments are appreciated. In the poem Bazm-e-Anjum (The Assembly of Stars), the poet writes:
Pahna diya shafaq ne sone ka saara zewar,
Qudrat ne apne gahne chaandi ke sab utaare.
(Nature cast off her silver in which she lay enclothed.
The horizon decked her up again in ornaments of gold.)
Stars are objects of nature that are often beautified and admired by poets and novelists alike. And here the poets compares them to that of “silvers of a cloth” and “ornaments of gold”. The stars are being equated with materials of that of clothes and ornaments, which are nothing but synthetic and unnatural creations. Similarly, from the following lines, it can be seen that certain ranks of women are adulated:
Mehmal mein khamshi ke lailaa-e-zulmat aai,
Chamke aroos-e-shab ke moti woh pyaare pyaare.
(Seated in the lap of silence, the queen of dark arrived,
The sky rolled out its pearls to greet the bride of night.)
Here the stars are praised by labelling them the “queen of dark” and “bride of night”, but it is in fact the ranks or stature of queens or brides that are venerated.
Light is another aspect of nature that is revered, and is often taken as the symbol of life. In the poem Jugnu (The Firefly), the poet writes:
Chote se chaand mein hai zulmat bhi roshni bhi,
Nikla kabhi gahan se, aaya kabhi gahan mein.
(The little moon has them both - darkness and light,
Now eclipsed, now exposed, flashing, fading all the while.)
Isolating the last line, here its not the light that is glorified, but the act of it fading and flashing - the appearance and disappearance that is admired.
In the same poem, the poet talks of the air, water and waves:
Saya diya shajar ko, parwaaz di hawa ko,
Pani ko di rawani, maujon ko be kali di.
(The air is given the power to fly, the trees induced with shade,
Water is given the might to flow, restless are the waves.)
While it appears as if he admires the “flying” air, “flowing” water and “restlessness” of waves, it is the “power” of flight and “might” of the flow that is the base of the admiration, not air and water. Centering on these words, it is apparent that these qualities of nature is what the poet is seeking for, and directing his admiration against.
From the few examples above, it can be seen that Iqbal doesn’t particularly “glorify nature”. He may be a keen observer of it, but what he in fact regards highly are the characteristics or elements that have otherwise been used often: massive wall like structures, the respecting gesture of the salute, the rhythmic motions of swaying and/or swinging and rolling, the stature of queens and brides, the smooth actions of flying and/or flowing and so on. He seems to be able to relate to nature, he often finds himself in it. The result is a tribute to the human consciousness through nature.
Kanda, KC. Allama Iqbal. Print.
Saylor , ed.
"http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/ENGL203-Subunit-3.3.1-Romanticism-and-Nature-FINAL1.pdf." . Saylor Foundation. Web. 20 Feb 2014.
"What is the connection between Romanticism and Nature?." . WiseGeek. Web. 20 Feb 2014.