Following are some of the main insights that I found in Iqbal’s poem, “The Morning Sun” (1902).
1. Iqbal begins this poem by praising with great enthusiasm the brightness and grandeur of the sun, but quickly changes his tone when he recalls what the sun’s immense energy can never accomplish — it cannot enlighten the human heart. The sun does a highly admirable job of illuminating the material world, but it does nothing to illuminate the world of the spirit. Only the outer eye benefits from the sun’s light, not the inner eye. When the sun rises each morning, its warm brilliance melts away any lingering sleep from our eyes, causing us to fully awaken. But this is not the only kind of awakening we need. We also need to open our spiritual eyes and to wake up from the dark night of ignorance. The poet tells us that, in addition to waking up each morning from physiological sleep, we also need to wake up from our dogmatic slumbers. He points out that it is not enough to have eyesight; we also need insight. For humans, the ability to see the reality of things is far more important than the ability to see their appearances.
2. Iqbal’s meditation on the morning sun makes him notice how the sun appears to have a transcendental perspective, that it seems to be above and beyond the petty distinctions and discriminations that cause so much suffering in the human world. Wouldn’t it be nice, the poet muses, if he too could have such an exalted perspective? He recognizes his heart’s desire at this point in his meditation: to become free of the shackles of mundane attachments and earthly relations, to be able to empathize with all people without regard to any markers of identity, and to rise above the boundaries and divisions that have been created by differences of cultures, customs, norms, and lifestyles. Iqbal understands that as a poet he has the power to influence people’s attitude. He wishes that his tongue remains free of group prejudices, that he neither favors nor criticizes anyone unfairly. He wishes for a broadening of his mental horizons so that he could see the whole world as his home and the entire humanity as his nation. The readers can notice the seeds of Iqbal’s cosmic perspective already in this early poem, which refutes the view that Iqbal was originally a narrow-minded Indian nationalist!
3. Continuing to voice his heart’s desire, Iqbal says that he wants the “secret of nature’s order” to be revealed to his heart’s eye. He wants to reach a state where he is no longer agitated by the struggle to resolve contradictions. At the relatively young age of twenty-five, Iqbal seems to be expressing here a theme that would remain important for him throughout his life, i.e., how to reconcile the oppositions that one encounters within one’s experience? This early desire to become free of the inner turmoil caused by the “knot of contradictions” is a very interesting one, for it suggests a longing on Iqbal’s part to achieve what has been called a “second naïveté.” To achieve that state of inner peace, Iqbal longs for a profound vision of things as they really are. He wants to be able to “see” the kind of divine beauty that is capable of kindling the fire of love in a seeker’s heart, a beauty that he already believes exists in all things. The poet seems to be saying that while he knows this beauty intellectually, he longs to know it experientially; by so knowing, he hopes to transcend the oppositions that he is encountering in his experience. The suggestion here is that only a personal insight into the inherent beauty of the world, and the love that such insight generates, will allow the seeker to overcome the “knot of contradictions.”
4. How does one gain the kind of insight that reveals the “secret of nature’s order” to one’s heart? To get in touch with reality, one must pierce the veils of appearance, and this requires the cultivation of sensitivity and openness. The poet wishes that another person’s pain should cause him to cry, and that the trauma to a flower’s petal should turn into tears that flow from his own eyes. This fascination with shedding tears is not a masochistic craving for pain; rather, Iqbal is expressing his desire to experience a deep relationship with nature and to develop a strong sense of empathy with other persons. In other words, what is being desired is connectedness, and pain is simply the price we must pay whenever we are genuinely connected to an “other.” The poet wants insight into the nature of reality, but he knows that insight cannot be gained from a safe, objective distance. To achieve a state of connectedness, however, one must lower one’s defenses in order to become fully receptive to whatever is. This act of opening oneself up to the “other” necessarily involves becoming vulnerable to suffering. Iqbal seems to be saying that insight cannot be gained without love, that connectedness is the essential prerequisite for love, and that pain is simply a sign that one is open, sensitive, and receptive — and therefore vulnerable.
5. The poem starts with an eloquent depiction of how grand and exalted the sun is, but towards the end of the poem Iqbal is able to turn this idea on its head. The poet argues that while the sun may be the most intense body of light visible to us, the fact that it transcends the turmoil of the human world is no sign of supremacy. What the sun lacks is any awareness of its own beauty and brilliance. In sharp contrast, the human being has been blessed with self-consciousness. The human being possesses an inner light, the divine spark that made angels prostrate before Adam. As such, the human being alone is capable of beholding the spectacle of creation, of forever meeting new challenges and reaching towards new goals. The sun, on the other hand, must wait each morning for the permission to rise.
6. In this way, Iqbal’s meditations on the morning sun quickly develops into one of his favorite topics — the distinctive potential of the human self. Iqbal points out that, in contrast to the sun, the human heart has a special taste for seeking and desiring, for setting ideals and pursuing them, for craving the light of truth. Part of human uniqueness is our immense curiosity, our love of knowledge, our desire to find and meet fresh challenges. We enjoy the process of facing and overcoming obstacles, and experience an intense pleasure in figuring out complex mysteries. We are fully aware that there is no final destination for us to reach; that there will never come a time when we have uncovered all secrets and answered all questions. Yet, we find that the joy of participating and progressing in a journey that lacks a final end-point is far greater than even the satisfaction of arriving at one’s desired destination. The very experience of posing questions and seeking answers is blissfully rewarding, difficult and pleasurable at the same time. To be human is to experience this sweet pain of seeking, this longing for the secrets of nature–something that the mighty sun will never experience!