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  • 9/10/2011

Payam-e Mashregh

part 1


Payam-e mashreq was first published in 1923 against the backdrop of the great changes that occurred after World War I and the final collapse of the Ottoman empire, both of which, with certain reservations, Iqbal welcomed. If any theme can be detected running through its remarkably fresh and varied verse, then it is probably one of optimism and excitement engendered by the establishment of a new world order from which it seemed likely that the East, and the Islamic East in particular, would arise supreme.

Payam-e Mashregh, title of a collection of Persian verse, by Muhammad Iqbal (q.v.). Iqbal begins his Urdu preface to the work with the following words: ”The Payam-e Mashreq owes its inspiration to the Western Divan of Goethe, the German philosopher of life, about which the Israelite poet of Germany, Heine, says: ‘This is a bouquet presented by the West to the East as a token of regard ... This Divan bears testimony to the fact that the West, being dissatisfied with its weak and cold spiritual existence, now seeks warmth from the bosom of the East’”‌ (Kolliyat-e Eqbal, Farsi, p. 173).

In other words, Iqbal clearly intended his third large-scale Persian work as a response, and in many ways as a tribute, to the West-Ostlicher Divan of Goethe, a poet for whom he had a profound admiration, and with whose verse he had become acquainted during his stay in Germany in 1907. It would, however, be wrong to imagine that Iqbal’s work was (as it is sometimes assumed) written in imitation of Goethe’s Divan, even though it does contain a number of poems inspired by or freely translated from the German poet’s original verse. Indeed, many of the sentiments expressed in the Payam bear a strong resemblance to those of his first collection of Urdu verse, Bang-e dara "The Sound of the camel bell,”‌ which appeared almost simultaneously.

Unlike Goethe’s Divan, which consists of twelve books, the Payam is divided into three sections. The first of these is entitled Lala-ye Tur ”The Tulip of Sinai”‌ and contains 163 robaت؟is, most of which provide summaries of, or comments upon, the deeper philosophical points already made in Iqbal’s earlier Persian maل¹¯nawis and the Urdu verse that he began to compose after his return from Europe in 1908. By this time, Iqbal had reached firm conclusions about the nature of the Self and the path that mankind should follow in its quest for the ultimate goal, and his belief in self-reliance and unswerving activity find eloquent expression in the aphorisms that constitute his quatrains (roba’i no. 14, Payam-e mashreq, p. 199):


Take up your dust and build yourself a frame,

A rampart firm in which you can reside.

Within your frame there beats a feeling heart,

A stream that gushes from the mountainside.


The stream, ”flowing merrily through the meadow like the Milky Way”‌ is a favorite image of Iqbal and also finds its place in Goethe’s poem ”Mahomets Gesang,”‌ which Iqbal freely translated into Persian under the title of ju-ye ab (Payam-e mashreq, p. 299). To his rendering he appended the following note: ”In this poem, which was written much earlier than the WesternDivan, the German poet has most beautifully depicted the Islamic concept of life. In fact it formed part of a projected Islamic drama, which he never managed to complete”‌ (ibid.).

To be continued ...

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