Symbolism in Iqbal’s Poetry
By Dr. Zafar M. Iqbal
Nothing in Iqbal’s poetry encapsulates his anthropomorphic symbolism better than ‘shaheen’, which is most likely an ornithologically composite eagle-like bird.
Iqbal made over 35 references to shaheen (or its occasional alternate, shahbaaz, and sometimes, uqaab), besides a poem in Baal-Jibreel [BJ]. Through this recurrent mechanism, Iqbal lays out some of his philosophical concepts.
Who does not remember, or feel inspired, by these famous lines from ‘Eik nawjaan kay naam’ [BJ]?
“Naheen thera nashaymun qasr-e-sultani ki goombud per
thoo shaheen hai, basayra ker puhaarh-awn ki chutaan-awn main .”
This I have translated as:
Your place is not on
the dome of a king’s palace.
You are an eagle, your place is
in the high mountain-tops. [‘To a Young Man’ from “Wings of Gabriel”]
In the following lines, Iqbal describes some of the important features of shaheen :
1. “Guzr-e- awqaath ker laytha hai yeh koh-wo-biyabaan main
ke shaheen kay liyey zilluth hai kaar-e-aashiyaan-bundi ” (Ghazal #10 of 1st set, BJ)
Spending time in mountains and wilderness,
it’s beneath an eagle’s dignity to build a nest.
2. “Nigha-e-ishq dil-e-zinda ki thalaash main hai
shikar-e-murdah sazawar-e-shahbaaz nahin” (Ghazal #15 of 2nd set, BJ)
Love is in search of an ardent heart;
for an eagle, carrion is not acceptable.
3. “Pervaaz hai do-nawn ki isi aik faza main
kergus ka jahaan aur hai, shaheen ka jahaan aur” (Haal wo muqaam, BJ )
Both fly around in the same air but
a vulture’s world is different from an eagle’s.
4. “Thoo shaheen hai parvaaz hai kaam thera
Teray saamnay aasmaan aur bhi hain” (Ghazal #49, BJ)
You are an eagle, flying is what you do,
many more skies lie before you.
5. Chiyunti: Mein pa-e-mal wo khwaar wo perayshaan wo durdmund
Thera muqaam kyun sitar-awn say bhi bulund?
Uqaab: Thoo rizq upna dhoond-thi hai khaakh-e-raah main
Mein na sapaher ko nahin laatha nighah main (Chiyunti aur Uqaab, BJ)
Ant: I’m down-trodden, lowly, worried and caring
why is your place higher than even stars?
Hawk: You hunt for your food in the dust
I don’t even care for the skies.
6. “Shaheen kabhi pervaaz say thukh ker nahin girtha
Por-dum hai thoo, tho nahin khuthra-e-ufthaad (Asaar-e-Paida, Zerb-e-Kaleem)
An eagle doesn’t fall, when tired of flying.
If you’re strong, no risk of such an accident.
7. Shaheen [BJ]
Kiya mein nay oos khaakdaan say kinara
Jahan rizq ka naam hai aab-o-daana
Biyabaan-awn ki khilwuth khoosh aathi hai mujhko
Aazul say hai fithruth mayri rahebaana
Na baad-e-bahari, na gulcheen, na bulbul
Khiyaban-awn say hai perhaiz laazim
Aada-yain hai unki bahuth dilberana
Hawa-e- biyabaan say hothi hai kaari
Jawaan-murd ki zerbuth-e-ghaazi-yana
Humaam wo khaboothur ka bhookha nahin mein
Kay hai zindagi baaz ki zahedana
Jhaputna, palutna, palut kar jhaputna
Lahoo garm rukhnay ka hai eik bahana
Ye poorub, ye puch-him, chiko-rawn ki dunya
Mera neel-goon aasmaan bay-kerana
Pa-rindawn ki duniya ka derwaish hoon mein
kay shaheen banaatha nahin aashiyana
I have abandoned that poor place,
where daily food is bread-and-water .
Seclusion in wilderness suits me fine;
by nature, I have always been a hermit .
No spring breeze, no gardener, no nightingale,
and no sickeningly sweet songs of love.
Staying away from garden-dwellers , a must –
Their ways, so seductive, so charming.
Desert wind is what gives the young men
the warrior spirit and strength for action.
I have no appetite for doves and pigeons --
abstinence and self-denial, my Spartan life.
Snatching, turning around to snatch again,
just an excuse to keep the blood warm.
The East and West, the world of lowly birds:
Mine is the vast, boundless blue sky .
In the world of birds, I am a hermit :
an eagle builds no nest  !
 Describing where other birds generally live and what they do on the ground. These birds live for; nothing more or higher.
 Mentions ‘Derwaish’ in Urdu: poor and aloof.
 Easy, pleasant and comfortable living in fragile surrounding and delicate manners -- Unlike where and how an eagle prefers to live.
 Most other birds would notice dawn and dusk (or East and West); Iqbal’s eagle (shaheen) supposed to be above that basic need.
 No permanent home, an eagle is free, nomadic and makes no nest.
Shaheen has an acute eye, flies at higher altitudes, loves solitude, does not build nest or eat anything killed by others (or carcasses). If shaheen -- perhaps a composite raptor of Iqbal’s imagination and the philosophic, anthropomorphic symbolism -- is translated as an eagle, it should be noted , as the ornithologists would tell you, that the eagles would, on occasion, eat carrion, and do build nests.
To shaheen, Iqbal attributes a number of inspiring features: independence, self-respect, self-reliance, self-control, character and honor, courage, pride, lofty thinking, spiritualism over materialism, constant struggle and endurance/perseverance, and purity of soul and passion. In his writings and interviews, Allama’s son, Dr. Javed Iqbal, elaborates on some of these themes. Iqbal was not the first or only poet to use avian symbols: Shelley, Wordsworth with skylark and others have employed other symbols before, but not to the extent of Iqbal’s intense focus on shaheen.
Iqbal then weaves all these characteristics of shaheen into his concept of ‘khudi’ or ‘selfhood’, as he termed it himself, though not fully satisfied with his own translation.
Now, from the poetic sublime to the dull science! Instead of the not-quite satisfactory ‘eagle’, some translators have used falcon or hawk for shaheen. For those interested, they are different: eagles and hawks belong to a family of Accipitridae, while falcons fall under a different family, Falconidae. Most eagles are larger than any other raptors (except vultures), are broad winged, powerfully built, with heavier head and bill. Hawks, mainly woodland birds with long tails and great visual acuity, hunt by sudden dashes and are among the most intelligent birds. Peregrine Falcons are the fastest birds on Earth, reported to reach diving speeds of up to 200 mph. Vultures eat carrion.
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucophalus), for instance, weighs about 10-14 pounds (female slightly larger than male), with a wing span 72-90 inches, flying at around 10,000 ft high at 30-35 mph. They build their nests in huge trees along the rivers or coasts. Once paired, the mates remain together until one dies. They eat mainly fish, but will also eat carrion when needed (especially in the winter). These eagles are also on the top of the food chain, considered as apex predators, and live up to 30 years.
Digressing further, I bring up ‘bald eagle’ (see photos) , an awe-inspiring symbol of the US since 1782. It forms a powerful depiction on the US Presidential seal, with an olive branch in one claw and 13 arrows in the other (representing the original number of states in the Union or former British colonies), with the olive branch for peace and arrows for the power and strength of the country. As the national bird of the USA, it is prominently depicted in seals, logos, coins, postage stamps and other federal governmental items. Eagle is also an important element of American-Indian culture.
Something noble and inspiring about eagle and Iqbal’s shaheen, and what each represents!
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