An Eulogy to Iqbal
He cast with great mastery the most delicate, the most subtle and radically new philosophical themes into the mold of Persian poetry
The gardener tested the force of my speech. He sowed a verse of mine and could reap a sword from it.
We have a large number of non-Persian-speaking poets in the history of our literature, but I cannot point out any of them whose poetry possesses the qualities of Iqbal’s Persian poetry. Iqbal was not acquainted with Persian idiom, as he spoke Urdu at home and talked to his friends in Urdu or English. If you read Iqbal’s Persian prose in Rumuz-e bikhudi (The Secrets of the Selflessness) and Asrar-e khudi (The Secrets of the Self) you will see that it is hard for even Persian speakers to understand it.
Iqbal never studied Persian at any stage in a school or college. In his father’s house he spoke Urdu. Iqbal chose the Persian language as his medium of literary expression only for the reason that he felt that his ideas and themes could not be effectively expressed in the Urdu language. In spite of not having tasted the Persian way of life, never living in the cradle of Persian culture, and never having any direct association with it, he cast with great mastery the most delicate, the most subtle and radically new philosophical themes into the mold of Persian poetry, some of which are unsurpassed yet.
In my view this can only be explained as his poetic genius. When you compare his poetical works with those of other non-Iranian poets who wrote poetry in Persian, you will realize the greatness of Iqbal. Some of the ideas that he has expressed with ease in one couplet, if one tries to render them into prose it will take a long time and great deal of effort to do so. It is not an easy job even for us whose mother tongue is Persian.
Iqbal, that luminous spark that washed out from our hearts the darkness of the days of suffocation and repression and projected a bright picture of the future before our eyes, is now transformed into a bright torch to have attracted the attention of our people. Our people who were the first foreign addressees of Iqbal were unfortunately very late to recognize him. The particular conditions in our country, especially the political domination of the western powers during the last years of Iqbal’s life in his favorite country, Iran, never allowed Iqbal to visit this country. This great poet of Persian language, who composed most of his poetry in Persian and not in his own mother tongue, could never breathe in his dear and desired climes.
Not only that Iqbal never came to Iran, but the same politics with which Iqbal was at war throughout his life did not allow his ideas, his ideology and his teachings to reach the ears of the Iranian people, who were ever eager to receive his message. I have an answer to this question as to why Iqbal did not come to Iran. At that time, when Iqbal was at the pinnacle of his fame and glory and was known all over the Subcontinent and all the renowned universities of the world recognized him as a great thinker, philosopher, scholar, humanist and sociologist, in our country the political rulers could not tolerate Iqbal and his ideas in any way. For this very reason he was never invited to Iran.
Iqbal belongs to this nation and this country, and one of his famous poems is dedicated to the people of Iran which begins with the following verse:
I am burning like a tulip’s lamp on your path,
O youth of Iran, I swear by my own life and yours.
The man is coming who shall break the chains of the slaves,
I have seen him through the cracks in the walls of your prison.
This poem also strengthens my belief as to why Iqbal could not visit Iran. He considered Iran as a prison and addressed the people living here in the way the prisoners are addressed. It was for this reason that he turned his attention to Iran so that the flame that was burning inside his heart could be converted into a bright blaze in Iran. He was waiting for a miracle to occur here. This is Iqbal’s due that we owe to him, and we should always remember our indebtedness to him.
This is an edited version of the speech given by then President Khamenei at the opening session of the First International Conference on Iqbal, held at Tehran, March 10–12, 1986, on the occasion of the 108th birth anniversary of the poet. Khamenei now holds the position of the Supreme Leader of the Republic and well known as an expert on the Persian works of Iqbal.