Conference of the Birds
Author: Fariduddin Attar Neishaburi
Translator: Manavaz Alexanderyan
Publisher: Keykavoos publications
Year of Publishing: 2016
No. of Page: 200
- English text is available
About the book:
All the birds in the world decide to find a king and choose hoopoe, King Solomon’s guide, as their leader. The hoopoe describes the difficulty of the journey and many birds make excuses because of their worldly attachments. At last the birds began their journey and cross seven mystic valleys and out of thousands only 30 birds arrive at the court of the Simorgh or Almighty God. In the Valley of Quest one must suffer many pains. One finds out that love has nothing to do with reason in the Valley of Love. Knowledge is tentative in the Valley of Knowledge. One has no desire to possess things in the Valley of Independence. All become united in the Valley of Unity. One forgets himself in the Valley of Wonder and understands that he is a little drop of a vast ocean in the Valley of Doom. Each bird represents a human character and foibles. The nightingale is in love with the rose, the duck prefers her beloved pool, the owl is in love with pearls, the sparrow is afraid to die, and the hawk prefers to hunt for kings… Hoopoe recommends the birds to detach themselves of the temporary world and set out for the everlasting world.
* * *
In this book Fariddudin Attar, a mystic poetic of 11th century A.D., describes the different stages of the evolution and purification of the soul of a mystic by quoting many anecdotes and stories. The books has been translated in prose and verse by Manavaz Alexandrian, two times winners of the best press translation award in Iran .
About the Author:
Born in 1939 .Manvaz Alexanderian is an Iranian translator and poet who writes in English. He has translated many books in Iranian Fiction and Literature.
Praise to Almighty God who set his throne upon the waters and created all earthly creatures. He has given power to heaven to dominate and has made the earth obedient to heaven. He raised the firmament above the earth like a tent and created the stars and planets and the nine cupolas of heaven. First He decorated the heaven with stars to shed light at night and then He fastened the mountains firmly to the ground, capped with ice, and made the oceans liquid as a sign of bondage. He made the mountaintops sharp like the blade and the valleys like girdles helping mountains to lift their heads with pride. He placed the earth on the back of the bull, the bull on the fish, and the fish in the air.
Sometimes He causes the flowers to spring from fire and sometimes throws bridges over rivers. He paints the world with the color of the tulip out of vapor. He makes beds of water-lilies and drenches the earth with blood to cause them to yield rubies. The sun and the moon bow to Him and admire Him and their movement around an axis is a sign of their worship. He lighted the day with sunshine and made the night black. He painted the parrot in gold, and crowned the hoopoe, appointing him the leader of the Path. He molded the universe out of a little vapor. In winter He scatters snow, in summer fruits and in autumn gold yellow leaves. He adorns the jasmine with petals and puts a red bonnet on the head of the tulip. He created the wind, the earth and fire. He took clay and mixed it with water to make a man and after forty days He breathed spirit into his nostrils and gave him intelligence to discern, judge, and ponder.
There is only He and none else. People are aware of their ignorance. The soul is hidden in the body and God is hidden in the soul. Everyone sees himself in Him and He is manifest in everything. No one knows the extent of His attributes; being eternal and above all, He deceives even the wisest people.
He sent prophets and saints to describe His divine blessings and spread His words on earth.
Friends and enemies bow their heads before his Throne. Moreover, He is watching all of us. He made all the planets and stars, His throne and the universe are only a talisman. Both the visible and the invisible worlds are a manifestation of God’s immense power. After this do you think it is easy to acquire enough knowledge about spiritual things? What shall I say further since there is nothing more to say? One must live a hundred lives to know himself, but you must know God by his attributes and not by himself. For it is God, and not human wisdom, that opens the way, and God is beyond human knowledge.
Praise be to Almighty God who created the world,
Bred life and made earth obedient in his hold.
He raised the firmament like a speckled tent,
Yet suspended it stand by His commandment.
In six days by him seven globes were given,
And by two words He laid down nine vaults in heaven.
To the mountain He gave a belt and a sharp edge
And made the ocean liquid as a sign of bondage;
The sun and the moon worship the earth by rotation
And by that movement they express their admiration;
First He nailed the earth firm by the mountain
And washed the earth’s face with the ocean,
Then He put the earth on the bull’s back to bear;
The bull He put on the fish, the fish on the air.
In haughty Nimrod’s nose He put a puny fly
To make him suffer four centuries and to die.
Wisely He made the spider to spin a net
And saved the Prince of the World from death.
He made the ant’s waist thin like a thread
And bade him sit with King Solomon and debate.
See what He did with Adam at the onset;
How many years Adam mourned in regret?
Think of Noah then who preached a hundred years,
And how his sermons fell on unbelieving ears.
Behold Solomon, the king who was rich and wise,
Satan robbed his realm, banned from Paradise.
THE BEGINNING – THE BIRDS ASSEMBLE
The hoopoe, Solomon’s messenger and chosen bird, gathers the birds to speak about the invincible Simorgh who resides high in the heaven. By turns, He exhorts the wagtail, the parrot, the falcon, the quail, the nightingale, the peacock, the pheasant, the dove, the pigeon, the goldfinch and the hawk to seek the Simorgh (meaning God or the Absolute One) by overcoming their weakness and their worldly desires:
Hail to you, O hoopoe, our nimble guide,
A messenger that at every bower fly and glide,
Bid by King Solomon to far Sheba you were gone
(Solomon to whom the language of birds was known);
You preserved Solomon’s secret in your head
And converted the Queen of Sheba to his faith.
Hold the Satan tightly in the jail, hold,
And be a confidante of Solomon in his fold, (1)
When temper is fettered in the jail you
Will sit on his magic carpet with his crew. (2)
Hail O wagtail, you who resemble Moses,
Arise, tune the lute, and sing melodious;
For mankind was made by music and motion
And music tuned the globes in the creation ;( 3)
Like Moses you saw the fire but from distance,
When by sparrow guided to Mount Tour you did advance (4)
And you, O painted parrot, who on Tuba perch with ire (5)
You wear a saint’s garb with the necklace of fire;
The arch of the fire is for the hellish race,
The badge you wear is for saints and the blameless.
He who likes Abraham escaped Nimrod’s fire
Shall sit in the fire fearless and with desire; (6)
Kill Moses; kill him in the burning furnace;
Dive like Abraham in the fire and rise blameless.
When like him you forget Nimrod’s deadly fear
The badge of the burning fire you shall wear. (7)
O painted partridge nimbly you prance,
And cheerful ascend the mount of cognizance;
Laugh in the dangerous path, stage by stage,
And cheerfully explore the mountain of knowledge.
Hail to you swift falcon, who see well your path,
Till when you must indulge in anger and wrath?
Tie the scroll of eternal love on your foot
And never unbound the letter, keep it for good!
Your mother-born wisdom to your heart you bend;
Then one you will see of the start and the end. (8)
And you fair quail; from you God asked his identity,
Men’s answer of “yes” is your throne of eternity; (9)
When your soul hears God’s question in grace,
Shut the mouth of yourself if it cries “yes!”
O sweet nightingale, in lovers’ bower sing,
Like David sing the lover’s pain and suffering,
Like David meaningful you sing and prate!
So hundreds shall follow your pleasing breath.
Hail golden peacock, the eight portals of heaven,
You burnt from the wound of the seven-headed dragon;
The discourse of the charming snake tainted your brain
And you were banished from the Garden of Eden; (10)
He betrayed the tree to Adam forbidden
And darkened your heart from the bliss of heaven.
If you manage to escape this ugly viper’s snare
With Adam you will sit in the heavenly sphere.
Hail O peasant who you have a keen sight;
Fill your heart with the deep ocean of light;
O you who in the flesh of darkness are sunk, (11)
Jailed in dungeon of trial and filth and junk!
Free yourself from your tepid well of darkness
And raise your head in the heaven of divine grace;
Like Joseph fly from jailing well which is base (12)
And rise high and manage Egypt’s grain business.
And you, O fair dove, by good manners known,
Jailed unknown and risen by your virtue’s crown,
You’re sad for you are sunk in your putrid gore,
And jailed like good Zolnun many years before. (13)
Tear the head of the mischievous fish and soon
You’ll touch the crescent of the shining moon;
If you escape the loathsome belly of the whale,
Like Jonah you’ll sit with saints and avoid hell. (14)
Hail to you sweet-tongued pigeon, again hail!
Open your mouth and pearls will drop to the dale,
Since on your neck you bear the ring of faith
It is baneful to prove untruthful to your faith;
If even a hair survives from your body
I shall call you faithless and nobody!
Should you exit from your dark bodily home
You shall find the path of knowledge and wisdom;
And when wisdom enlightens your soul, heaving
Elias will bring you the water of living.
And you, O royal hawk who soar too high,
Risen too high and fallen from the sky,
Revolt not although you have fallen,
Leave your flesh tainted with blood by a balloon!
Since you eat the corpse and the carrion you sting
You are alien to the realm of meaning;
Dismiss both this world and the next – with that
Pull out your crown and look at the path.
Hail to you, fair goldfinch, in your pretty empire,
Burn in your pursuit and turn to a ball of fire;
Burn what you see in your path with your own heat,
Escape your flesh, expire, but proceed! proceed!
And when you have burnt in your daring journey
God’s bounties will fall on you plenty;
When enlightened by truth by fermentation
You will turn a slave to the Master of Creation,
And when to God you turn like perfect bird then
You shall not survive, only God will remain.
HE DISCOURSE OF THE BIRDS WITH HOOPOE
All the birds gathered in a huge assembly to discuss their fate and their need to have a king. They said that every country had a king to rule and administer justice, and debated how they could begin their quest for that king.
All birds in the world in an assembly met
And let out all that was known or was secret.
All said, in such times that turmoil is shaking
No town is empty of a sovereign king.
Now that no ruler reigns our blessed land
It is unfit to loiter without a command;
Perhaps if we help each other by wisdom
We can find a prince to rule our kingdom.
Then all assembled in a gathering
And earnestly they sought a sceptered king.
HOOPOE OPENS THE CONFERENCE
Hoopoe, who is wearing a natural crown on his head and has learnt his wisdom from Solomon, presides at the conference. He tells the birds that he is free of fraud and is a messenger of God. He says he used to preside at the levee in King Solomon’s court and when absent Solomon badly missed him. He carried the King’s letters as his trusted courier. For many years he traveled with Solomon by sea and land and he traversed the world after the flood. He exhorts the birds to give up their fear and love of self in order to find the Simorgh, who is the king of birds, the lord of heaven and model of perfection. Simorgh does not show himself completely. Even in his own dwelling, the purest souls cannot describe him. All creatures wish to attain that perfection and beauty. “Many lands and seas are to be crossed to reach the Simorgh,” Hoopoe informs the birds. “You should be lion-hearted to risk the expedition. I will be glad to find the path to the Simorgh, but first of all you must wash your hands off your worldly attachments. Only those who sacrifice their lives will be accepted in Simorgh’s lofty palace.”
The hoopoe long awaiting and in unrest
Entered the meeting nervous and distressed;
A cloak he was wearing pointing to the road
And a crown on his head that to truth did nod.
Sharp and intent he was and knew his mission,
Aware of bad and good he came to the session.
He said: “O birds I am free of cheat and fraud
I am both a courier and messenger of God;
Well informed of all the saints, I am a page,
By nature quickened, I know the secret knowledge.
He who recites God’s name, verbal and written,
No wonder if he knows what’s known and hidden.
Sunk in my depression, secluded I live,
None deals with me or my counsel will receive,
And since I am free of people and need
Folk are also free of my belief and creed.
In Solomon’s court I presided at the levee,
I was his messenger though sometimes heavy.
Many were absent from his court, he didn’t mind,
Neither he cared what the delinquents designed,
But when a moment I delayed to attend the court
He sent embassies to find me and report;
For a hoopoe this rank suffices all the while.
I carried his letters and was back as bidden,
I learned from him what was known and hidden.
He who is favored by a prophet I bet
Is worth to wear a diadem on his head.
For years I have scored land and ocean,
For years I’ve endured pain and commotion;
For years I’ve crossed deserts and wood
And have surveyed the world after Noah’s flood.
With Solomon I’ve traveled – the wise king –
With him I have searched the world wandering;
I have noted what wise Solomon has showed;
I cannot travel alone and dig the road.
But once you follow me in the blessed path
You will become His friend, be assured of that.
Leave your puny pride and your mortal bound,
Till when you must faithless linger around?
He who for love dies evades his frame
And leaves good and bad behind and the shame;
Burn flesh and soul, O friends, burn! O burn!
Dancing you fly and to His court you turn.
A king we own indeed, pure and blameless,
Beyond Mount Ghaf dwells His royal highness (15)
His name is Simorgh; He is the birds’ king,
He is near yet afar we seek Him rambling.
On the peak of glory He is sitting,
No tongue can sing His praise as is fitting;
A thousand veils hide the Prince and his face
Both of light and glory and of darkness.
Not in this world and the next one dares
To contest His power in celestial spheres.
A mortal can’t enumerate his virtues and grace
For the brain cannot conceive His greatness;
There the body and brain stall in wonder,
With two eyes we cannot see and sink under!
No wise man has ever scanned His greatness,
Not he who sees can see His lovely face.
A thousand secrets lie hid in His court,
A thousand pains and strife I can report.
Many deserts and seas awaits to pass,
Deem not it is a short road that we must cross;
A lion-hearted man is needed to prance and leap!
For the path is too far, the see is deep;
We have reason to wonder as we fly mates,
We must weep and laugh in our vain debates.
If we trace His mansion we may live,
Without Him none can survive, I believe;
With dignity if we trace His mansion we may live,
Without Him it is base to live I believe;
Manly we must journey and bear to the end
Lives must perish till His court we can ascend.
Manly you must wash your hand off this life
To prove that you can endure the strife.
Without the Beloved your life is worth nothing
Manly you must journey and by trotting!
If manly you perish and manly you die
Many you’ll die for His sake when you climb the sky.
THE STORY OF SIMORGH
The Simorgh first manifested Himself in China when one of His feathers fell, and since then His fame spread around the world. Everybody drew a picture of this feather and formed his own opinion about the invincible bird. It was because of his manifestations that so much noise was made about the mysterious creature. The sign giving a hint to His existence is a token of His glory. Everybody carries a print of the image of His feather, and since the various descriptions of the Heavenly Bird are without end it is not necessary to speak more about Him. Now those among you willing to see the Simorgh must prepare yourselves for the expedition.
“In the beginning, O wondrous to relate,
In midnight Simorgh showed His majestic state.
In China a feather from the Bird fell,
The tale was spread at every mount and dale.
Each took his image of the feather in motion,
Those who saw the image worked out their notion.
The feather is in a gallery in China,
Seek for science even if it lies in China*.
If the image had not traveled in the world
Such tumult would not have disturbed every fold.
Since neither His head has been seen or His feet
‘Tis unfit to describe Him, it is indiscreet;
Now you who’ve the will (and can do the thing)
Look on the road ahead and stretch your wing!
* A quotation from the Prophet (S)
THE BIRDS DISCUSS THE JOURNEY
When the hoopoe had finished his sermon, the birds excitedly discussed the glory of this unknown king and were seized with longing to elect Him as their king. They were now all impatient to be off and they resolved to go together. Each became enemy to his own self and friend to others, but when they understood the length and the perils of the journey, they made excuses according to their nature and worldly attachments.
Now all the birds restless to see the King,
Became eager to commence and stretch their wing;
His love inflamed their souls to the mission,
Many were impatient receive his admission;
Each eagerly pressed to take the forward ranks,
They turned foe to their selves and filled the flanks
But since the road was too far and remote
Each had a dread of the dubious route.
Though the trip was deemed needful for their life,
Each brought a pretext to escape the strife.