“The Morning Sun” (Aftab-e Subh in Urdu) is an early poem by Iqbal, composed in the spring of 1902 and published in May of the same year. Iqbal revised this poem before including it in his first collection of Urdu verse, Bang-e Dara (1924).
Arguably, “The Morning Sun” does not show the same maturity of thought and expression that we find in Iqbal’s later work. Nevertheless, the poem contains many precious insights that are worth the reader’s time and attention. In the present post, I will quote the original poem and provide an English translation. In subsequent posts, I hope to offer a more detailed commentary on the poem.
Here’s the first half of “The Morning Sun”:
The poem starts by addressing the sun, acknowledging its grandeur, brilliance, and transcendence by invoking the usual metaphors of romantic poetry. The first four couplets are pretty conventional. The lines are charming and glamorous, demonstrating Iqbal’s creative use of traditional tropes and symbols; yet, they are relatively empty of substance. Starting with the fifth couplet, however, the poem shifts into a reflective and philosophical mode. That’s where the real fun begins!
The following is a translation of the first half of “The Morning Sun,” heavily modified from M. A. K. Khalil’s English version. In modifying Khalil’s translation, I have focused on capturing and conveying Iqbal’s meaning as I have understood it. If the translation lacks rhyme and rhythm, that’s because I have made no attempt to compose a poem. Any suggestions for improving the translation will be greatly appreciated.
Please note that throughout the poem, the second person pronoun (“you”) refers to the sun.
You are far beyond the strife of humanity’s tavern
You are the wine-cup that adorns the assemblage of heaven;
You are the jewel that graces the morning bride’s ear
The horizon’s forehead is honored to have you as adornment;
Remove the blot of night’s ink from the page of time
Erase the stars from the sky like a false image;
When your beauty appears at the balcony of heaven
Our eyes are freed from the drunkenness of sleep;
Vision’s expanse becomes filled with light
Yet only the outer eye benefits from your radiance;
A spectacle for the inner eye to behold is what I desire
An epiphany that gives insight is what I desire;
My craving for freedom is yet to meet fulfillment
The bondage of relations is still keeping me imprisoned;
All the highs and the lows are the same in your sight
I long for the kind of view that you have;
I want my eyes to shed tears at the other’s anguish
I want my heart to transcend the distinctions of customs and norms.
Below is the second half of the poem:
And my translation:
I wish that my tongue remains free of group prejudice
That humankind be my nation, the world my homeland;
That the secret of nature’s order be exposed to my inner eye
That the smoke from my imagination’s candle reaches the heaven;
That the struggle to reconcile opposites ceases to agitate my heart
That I find the love-evoking beauty in everything I see;
That even if a rose petal were to be traumatized by the breeze
The impact on my heart flows as tears from my eyes;
I wish that my heart bears that little spark of love’s simmering fire
And that its glowing brilliance guides me to the mysteries of reality;
That my heart turns into a mirror for the divine beloved
That no ambitions remain in me, except compassion for humankind;
If you are far beyond the hardships of this tumultuous world
That’s not a mark of your eminence, O great luminary;
With no awareness of your own beauty that adorns the whole world
You are not equal to a speck of dust at the doorstep of Adam;
The light to which angels prostrated continues to seek the spectacle
While you remain obligated to the morning of tomorrow;
Our hearts are ablaze with the desire to seek the light of truth
Our hearts are the abode where the taste of longing resides;
What a joy it is for us to open an intricate knot
How blissful is each step in our struggle that never ends;
You have never been blessed with the pathos of inquiry
You remain unaware of the seeking of nature’s mystery.