Muhammad Iqbal: At Napoleon's Tomb (From Urdu)

I haven't been studying Urdu for very long, but I thought I'd try my hand at a poem. I chose this one because (a) it's an immensely interesting and entertaining piece, and (b) it's the first Urdu ghazal I managed to understand all the way through, without recourse to a dictionary or puzzling over grammar. Then again, I'm not sure that's actually much of an accomplishment, given how heavily Persianized it is. The final verse is actually in Persian, and is a direct quote from Hāfiz.
In fact, the difficulties I encountered in translating this poem have little to do with how new I am to Urdu. Most troublesome was the quite Persian expression jōš-i kirdār, a phrase central to the poem's thrust, occurring no less than four times, whose vast, evocative semantic range encompasses everything from "the seething/boiling force of action" to "the energy of behavior, of character" (and for which I have found the rather unsatisfying equivalent "seething mettle.")

There is much I could say about Iqbāl, and I'll probably say a great deal as I translate more of his work. Most of which will royally piss off his fans, but I don't care. I'll say up front that though I respect Iqbāl greatly as a poet, I cannot but find his worldview obscene, and I'm sure he would think even worse of mine (or, in his words, the "atheistic materialism which I look upon as the greatest danger to modern humanity.") He had even more in common with Nietzsche than he ever realized, and was even more "western" in his outlook than he would ever have admitted. (Indeed, one of the most western things about him is the terms in which he denounces the west.) Like Nietzsche, too, he was far worthier as a poet than as a philosopher, as witnessed by the vitalism on display in this poem. An alienated modern man yearning for the palingenetic revitalization of Islam as a polity, it is no surprise that his conservative modernism found great appeal in the same irrationalist strains of western thought that also gave rise to mysticizing fascism (as it is no mystery why Iran's current Supreme Leader loves him so much.) In this and other respects Iqbal had less in common with his masters Rūmī, Ḥallāj and Goethe, than he did with his European contemporaries like Yeats, Rilke, Eliot and Stefan George.    

At Napoleon's Tomb
By Muhammad Iqbal
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Urdu

An enigmatic thing, the fate   
of this world in stress and storm:  
  In none but men of seething mettle 
  does fate reveal its form.
From seething mettle Alexander's   
sword dawned on the land  
  To blaze on high, and melted down 
  the mountain of Alvand. 
From seething mettle came torrential   
Timur's conquering flood.  
  Such mighty waves make nothing of 
  the land's vicissitude. 
The cry of prayer, the cry of war  
from men of God who trod  
  The battlefield, in seething mettle
  became the Voice of God.
Yet little more than meager moments  
are granted to the brave,  
  A breath or two in time against
  the deep night of the grave.
"The Valley of the Silenced ends  
the road of every man.  
  Seethe and resound beneath the vault
  of stars, while yet you can." 

The Original:

نپولین کے مزار پر
محمد اقبال

راز ہے راز ہے تقدیرِ جہان تگ و تاز 
جوش کردار سے کھُل جاتے ہیں تقدیر کے راز 
جوش کردار سے شمشیر سکندر کا طلوع! 
کوہ الوند ہوا جس کی حرارت سے گداز 
جوش کردار سے تیمور کا سیل ھمہ گیر 
 سیل کے سامنے کیا شَے ہے نشیب اور فراز 
صف جنگاہ میں مردانِ خدا کی تکبیر! 
جوش کردار سے بنتی ہے خدا کی آواز 
ہے مگر فرصت کردار نفس یا دو نفس! 
عوض یک دو نفس قبر کی شب ہاے دراز 
"عاقبت، منزل ماوادیٔ خاموشان است 
حالیا غلغلہ در گنبد افلاک انداز!" 

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