The Conference of the Birds: A Sufi Fable by Farid ud-Din-Attar: A Philosophical Religious Poem in Prose
ʻAṭṭār, Farīd al-Dīn
. Shambhala . Boulder, Col.
PK6451.F4 M2813 1971 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
MetadataShow full item record
This 120 page paperback presenting a beast epic about wisdom begins with a long Islamic invocation. There is a summons to each of the birds. Hoopoe then announces a movement to go to the king of birds Simurgh; he summons all the birds to go. He then talks to each, after each of them presents an excuse for not going. In general, they are satisfied with their lives or with the particular things that their life gives them. To each Hoopoe gives an answer, generally including a story or parable. A second round of objections and answers follows; this time the twenty-two objectors are not named. Discussion with the last of them leads to describing the seven valleys on the journey to Simurgh. In the two rounds of answers to the complaints, excuses, and objections are many stories, perhaps the most valuable parts of the work. Among the best are these. On 34-44 there is a great story of a wise muslim man with a great following who falls madly in love with a Christian girl. He abjures the truth faith of Islam for her—and then through the prayer and interaction of one man is won back to the true faith. The description of passionate obsession is classic. Another story (60) presents a pupil with a secret hoard of gold on a trip with his Shaikh. They come to a fork and the pupil says he is afraid to choose. The Shaikh points out that it is the gold that makes him afraid. “Get rid of that which makes you afraid, and then either road will be good.” Then again (86-7) there is the story of a proud leader; in the midst of his proud thoughts, the ass on which he is riding breaks wind. He wisely takes the gesture as the ass’s answer to his pretensions. On 120-22 there is another great passionate love story. A princess falls in love with a slave. He is drugged, wakes up in a “dream,” and enjoys a magical night with her. A final favorite story features a man who cries out in front of his door that he has lost his key. A wise sufi tells him to be of good cheer, since he at least has a door and knows it as his own. Soon enough someone will come out and open it for him. The sufi is looking for both door and key! “Would to God that I could find a door, open or shut!” (122-3). There are stories here of consuming passion, like the moth with the flame. A dervish falls in love with a prince, makes a fool of himself, is tortured and at the point of being executed; when the prince is kind to him and invites him to his garden, the dervish swoons and dies. “When he knew that he was united to his beloved, no other desires were left” (127). Some of the wisdom here can be summed up pithily. “Look death in the eye. Never say ’I.’ Being with the Simurgh as a slave is worth more than being given his kingdom. He who is not engaged in the quest for inner life is no more than an animal. Sacrifice everything for love.” The stories, like the whole work, are usually talk-heavy and wisdom-heavy. They remind me of stories in Rodriguez’ The Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues. In any case, many of the stories need more of a key to unlock their meaning. On the face, they are rather simplistic and moralistic. In the end, to my surprise the thirty birds who make it to the Simurgh out of the thousands who departed on the trek discover, after some humiliations and disappointments—that they are the Simurgh (132)! There is a glossary on 141-7.