Appreciating the grandeur and beauty of Muhammad Iqbal’s poetry seems like a daunting task but, David J. Matthews does this brilliantly in his book, “Iqbal” where he translates sections of Iqbal’s Urdu and Persian poetry in form that remain faithful to that of the original. Dr. David J. Matthews is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, a trustee of the Iqbal Academy, UK. He is also the member of Promotions Committee of Oslo University. Previously he has translated works by Rusva, Anis, Hali, Ibn-e-Insha, Shuakat Siddiqi as well as the contemporary Indian poet, Javed Akhtar. Other than a translator and commentator, Matthews is also the recipient of Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2009 by the Government of Pakistan.
The sole purpose of the book stems from the idea of having the subject matter accessible to ordinary reader. Iqbal: A Selection of his Urdu and Persian Verse does this job with utmost eloquence and cohesiveness. Matthews makes a point to include annotations glossaries and lucid explanatory notes throughout his translated work and the commentary on it, which makes the book far more engaging and insightful. In many ways, as Dr. Noman Ul Haq describes in his foreword “[Matthews’] has introduced a creative poeticality to his English renderings.” His translation itself follows a rhyming scheme.
Adding on a valuable contribution to Iqbal studies and throwing limelight onto its global perspectives, Matthews begin his book with a brief biography on the poet himself. He notes that Muhammad Iqbal was born in a small town in Sialkot in 1873. A poet who is hailed as the National poet of Pakistan in fact, died 9 years prior to the Independence of a separate Muslim homeland, Pakistan. Matthews explains that his name was latter coupled up with “Allama” meaning the “great scholar” or “sir” in reference to the knighthood. It is later believed that by the time he got admitted to Cambridge, after his initial schooling, he had already established himself as a poet and an academic.
Moving forth form Iqbal’s biographic briefing, Matthews begins with the translation from a section of Iqbal’s poems in The Call of the Camel Bell (Bang-e-Dara). Matthews also delves into translation of his work and recognizes Iqbal as “[…] one of the few poets of the subcontinent to have established, even in his own lifetime, an international reputation.” He notes that Iqbal and his work had many facets that people continued to explore throughout history. He writes, “By some [Iqbal] is regarded as a philosopher; by others he is an astute lawyer and politician; and as a stalwart defender of his own religion.”With the 37 poems of Iqbal translated by Matthews, Azadi-e-Nisvan, Ilm-o-Ishq, Tulu-e-Islam and Tarana-e-Hindi remains most pivotal and memorable pieces in the book.
Iqbal is noted to have a poetry gift that left decades following his work under the charm of his verses. In the book Matthews, combines the translation of Iqbal’s Urdu and Persian verses with his commentary explaining the historic and literally context it was written in. This methodology gives the readers a chance to engage with the text more and decipher the meaning behind each couplet. What Matthews inevitably manages to do with his writings is bring Iqbal’s work back into the limelight where the audience isn’t well-versed with the Urdu language.
Iqbal: A Selection of his Urdu and Persian verse
Translated by: David J. Matthews
Published by: Oxford University Press
Available at: OUP Bookstores