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The Secrets of the Self, by Muhammad Iqbal, tr. by Reynold A. Nicholson, [1920], at

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Concerning the true nature of poetry and the reform of Islamic literature.

’Tis the brand of desire makes the blood of man run warm,
By the lamp of desire this dust is enkindled.
676 By desire Life's cup is brimmed with wine,
So that Life leaps to its feet and marches briskly on.
Life is occupied with conquest alone,
And the one charm for conquest is desire.
Life is the hunter and desire the snare,
680 Desire is Love's message to Beauty.
Wherefore doth desire swell continuously

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The bass and treble of Life's song?
Whatsoever is good and fair and beautiful
Is our guide in the wilderness of seeking.
Its image becomes impressed on thine heart, 685
It creates desires in thine heart.
Beauty is the creator of desire's spring-tide,
Desire is nourished by the display of Beauty.
’Tis in the poet's breast that Beauty unveils,
’Tis from his Sinai that Beauty's beams arise. 690
By his look the fair is made fairer,
Through his enchantments Nature is more beloved.
From his lips the nightingale hath learned her song,
And his rouge hath brightened the cheek of the rose.

p. 62

695 ’Tis his passion burns in the heart of the moth,
’Tis he that lends glowing hues to love-tales.
Sea and land are hidden within his water and clay, 1
A hundred new worlds are concealed in his heart.
Ere tulips blossomed in his brain
700 There was heard no note of joy or grief.
His music breathes o’er us a wonderful enchantment,
His pen draws a mountain with a single hair.
His thoughts dwell with the moon and the stars,
He creates beauty in that which is ugly and strange.
705 He is a Khizr, and amidst his darkness is the Fountain of Life: 2

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All things that exist are made more living by his tears.
Heavily we go, like raw novices,
Stumbling on the way to the goal.
His nightingale hath played a tune
And laid a plot to beguile us, 710
That he may lead us into Life's Paradise,
And that Life's bow may become a full circle.
Caravans march at the sound of his bell
And follow the voice of his pipe;
But when his zephyr blows in our gardens, 715
We stay loitering amongst tulips and roses.
His witchery makes Life develop itself
And become self-questioning and impatient.
He invites the whole world to his table;
He lavishes his fire as though it were cheap as air. 720
Woe to a people that resigns itself to death,

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And whose poet turns away from the joy of living!
His mirror shows beauty as ugliness,
His honey leaves a hundred stings in the heart.
725 His kiss robs the rose of freshness,
He takes away from the nightingale's heart the joy of flying.
Thy sinews are relaxed by his opium,
Thou payest for his song with thy life.
He bereaves the cypress of delight in its beauty,
730 His cold breath makes a pheasant of the male falcon.
He is a fish, and from the breast upward a man,
Like the Sirens in the ocean.
With his song he enchants the pilot
And casts the ship to the bottom of the sea.
735 His melodies steal firmness from thine heart,

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His magic persuades thee that death is life.
He takes from thy soul the desire of existence,
He extracts from thy mine the blushing ruby.
He dresses gain in the garb of loss,
He makes everything praiseworthy blameful. 740
He plunges thee in a sea of thought,
He makes thee a stranger to action.
He is sick, and by his words our sickness is increased:
The more his cup goes round, the more sick are they that quaff it.
There are no lightning-rains in his April, 745
His garden is a mirage of colour and perfume.
His beauty hath no dealings with Truth,
There are none but flawed pearls in his sea.
Slumber he deemed sweeter than waking:

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750 Our fire was quenched by his breath.
By the chant of his nightingale the heart was poisoned:
Under his heap of roses lurked a snake.
Beware of his decanter and cup!
Beware of his sparkling wine!
755 O thou whom his wine hath laid low
And who look’st to his glass for thy rising dawn,
O thou whose heart hath been chilled by his melodies,
Thou hast drunk deadly poison through the ear!
Thy way of life is a proof of thy degeneracy,
760 The strings of thine instrument are out of tune.
’Tis pampered ease hath made thee so wretched,
A disgrace to Islam throughout the world.
One can bind thee with the vein of a rose,

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One can wound thee with a zephyr.
Love hath been put to shame by thy wailing, 765
His fair picture hath been fouled by thy brush.
Thy ill-usage hath paled his cheek,
Thy coldness hath taken the glow from his fire.
He is heartsick from thy heart-sicknesses,
And enfeebled by thy feeblenesses. 770
His cup is full of childish tears,
His house is furnished with distressful sighs. 1
He is a drunkard begging at tavern-doors,
Stealing glimpses of beauty from lattices,
Unhappy, melancholy, injured, 775
Kicked well-nigh to death by the warder;

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Wasted like a reed by sorrows,
On his lips a store of complaints against Heaven.
Flattery and spite are the mettle of his mirror,
780 Helplessness his comrade of old;
A miserable base-born underling
Without worth or hope or object,
Whose lamentations have sucked the marrow from thy soul
And driven off gentle sleep from thy neighbours’ eyes.
785 Alas for a love whose fire is extinct,
A love that was born in the Holy
Place and died in the house of idols!
Oh, if thou hast the coin of poesy in thy purse,
Rub it on the touchstone of Life!
Clear-seeing thought shows the way to action,
790 As the lightning-flash precedes the thunder.

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It behoves thee to meditate well concerning literature,
It behoves thee to go back to the Arabs:
Thou must needs give thine heart to the Salmá of Araby, 1
That the morn of the Hijáz may blossom
from the night of Kurdistan. 2
Thou hast gathered roses from the garden of Persia 795
And seen the springtide of India and Iran:

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Now taste a little of the heat of the desert,
Drink the old wine of the date!
Lay thine head for once on its hot breast,
800 Yield thy body awhile to its scorching wind!
For a long time thou hast turned about on a bed of silk:
Now accustom thyself to rough cotton!
For generations thou hast danced on tulips
And bathed thy cheek in dew, like the rose:
805 Now throw thyself on the burning sand
And plunge into the fountain of Zemzem!
How long wilt thou fain lament like the nightingale?
How long make thine abode in gardens?
O thou whose auspicious snare would do honour to the Phœnix,
810 Build a nest on the high mountains,

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A nest embosomed in lightning and thunder,
Loftier than eagle's eyrie,
That thou mayst be fit for Life's battle,
That thy body and soul may burn in Life's fire!


62:1 I.e. in his body.

62:2 Khizr, according to the legend, discovered the Fountain of Life in the Land of Darkness.

67:1 In this passage the author assails the Persian and Urdu poetry so much in favour with his contemporaries.

69:1 Arabic odes usually begin with a prelude in which the poet makes mention of his beloved; and her name is often Salmá. Here "the Salmá of Araby" refers to the Koran and the ideals for which it stands.

69:2 It is related that an ignorant Kurd came to some students and besought them to instruct him in the mysteries of Sufism. They told him that he must fasten a rope to the roof of his house, then tie the loose end to his feet and suspend himself, head downwards; and that he must remain in this posture as long as possible, reciting continually some words of gibberish which they taught him. The poor man did not perceive that he was being mocked. He followed their instructions and passed the whole night repeating the words given him. God rewarded his faith and sincerity by granting him illumination, so that he became a saint and could discourse learnedly on the most abstruse matters of mystical theology. Afterwards he used to say, "In the evening I was a Kurd, but the next morning I was an Arab."

Next: IX. The Three States in the Education of the Self