Saturday, October 17, 2009

Iqbal: a new perspective on the West

The six poets covered in the recent posts are those from whom Iqbal took seven poems captioned “for children” in his anthology Baang-i-Dara (1924). He has clearly marked six of these as “abridged” but unfortunately our educators drop that significant detail when they include the poems in textbooks. Hence, while the poems are known to almost everyone in Pakistan and the Urdu speaking world, very few people know that these are adaptations from foreign literature.

Thus we ignore a bridge between civilizations. We also fail to realize that practically all Pakistanis who have gone to school, and some who haven’t, have become familiar with such an amazing range of foreign writers through adaptations in our own language. From the birth of William Cowper in 1731 to the death of Matilda Betham-Edwards in 1919, these poets cover the two best centuries of the West when the Western civilization was moving forward.

Why did Iqbal choose these six poets, dropping some others (such as William Blake, whose “Tiger, tiger, burning bright” could have been such a good candidate)? We cannot answer this question without facing a mystery about a strange connection between Iqbal and one of these poets – someone who was long dead by the time Iqbal was born, but it seems that death was not the end of all in this case.

Next: The return of William Cowper