To the bottom left of the painting, you can make out the shadow of a nightingale in the dark, turned away from the light.
Yet one nightingale sings on there…
And the garden’s ancient walks, how
desolate they are and lone;
Ravished of their leafy robes, the boughs stand naked to the light.
Still he sings forlorn, all heedless of
the season’s changing mood…
The nightingale overlaps in silhouetted shadow with the kneeling figure, as they both represent the isolated feeling of the loss of a true Islamic path, of God’s support for Muslims. The nightingale laments alone in a dark and empty garden in the same way that Iqbal (or the narrator of the poem) kneels alone and offers his complaint to God. The kneeling figure, however, is faced toward the light in dialogue with God as he launches his complaint and receives an answer.
On the right-hand side of the painting, circles arc across the sky. These are the planets and moon listening to Iqbal’s words.
Listening, the ancient Sphere said,
“Someone seems to be about;”
Cried the Planets, “There is someone,
in the upper ether pure;”
“Not so lofty,” called the Moon.
“Down on the earth there, not a doubt” (38)
As they discuss the degree of audacity of Iqbal’s complaint and comment on the prideful nature of the “progeny of Adam”, God responds to the complaint, highlighting the ways in which Muslims have gone astray.
You forsook the nest that nursed you, lifted by the love of flight. (59)
This is God’s critique, represented by the shadow birds flying on the dark side of the painting. Muslims have been influenced by indigenous Indian practices and have failed to remain true to Muslim ideals. This generation of Muslims does not recognize or embody the ideals of previous generations and God asks:
If the child learns not the knowledge
that has made his father sage,
Then what right has he by merit to
his father’s heritage? (55)
He suggests instead that a return to the true ideals of Islam would rekindle the Muslim spirit and provide reason for God’s enduring support. The poem continues on using vivid imagery of gardens and deserts. In front of the kneeling figure, out of the yellow desert stretching into the background, a garden of flowers blooms red as when God explains:
And where martyrs shed their life – blood crimson roses will be born. (62)
The red of the flowers is mirrored in the sky as a new dawn emerges over the world.
Look upon the deep vermillion flooding all the eastern sky –
It is your horizon, glowing to behold
your sun arise (62)
This blooming, this sunrise, is brought about by the dedication of devoted Muslims adhering to a pure form of Islam. Such dedication and devotion tends to the strength and integrity of Islam, compared to a tree seen in the centre of the image towering over the kneeling figure and reaching both into darkness and the light.
After centuries of tending soars Islam,
a mighty tree,
Fruitful yet, a splendid symbol of
immense vitality. (63)
The branches remain bare on the dark side of the painting, while in the light they are lush and full. As the kneeling figure receives the answer, the golden light from the direction of God spills out around him, and he is no longer cloaked in darkness like the nightingale. God expresses that a deep focus on the Prophet will release the world from darkness, the world in shadow behind the kneeling figure.
Light the world, too long in darkness
with Muhammad’s radiant name.
Were it not for this fair blossom,
songless were the nightingale (68-69)
Hearing this answer, Iqbal is able to bring the light of the new dawn – seen in the sky inhabited by the planets and the moon and the ethereal voice of God – to the darkened garden of abandoned devotion where the lone nightingale mourns so that the flowers might there again bloom and the tree of Islam can grow strong.