Jun 13 2011

Farid ud-Din Attar – The Simurgh

Published by at 6:53 am under Poetry

The Simurgh
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Raficq Abdulla

Ah, the Simurgh, who is this wondrous being
Who, one fated night, when time stood still,
Flew over China, not a single soul seeing?
A feather fell from this King, his beauty and his will,
And all hearts touched by it were in tumult thrown.
Everyone who could, traced from it a liminal form;
All who saw the still glowing lines were blown
By longing like trees on a shore bent by storm.
The feather is lodged in China’s sacred places,
Hence the Prophet’s exhortation for knowledge to seek
Even unto China where the feather’s shadow graces
All who shelter under it — to know of this is not to speak.
But unless the feather’s image is felt and seen
None knows the heart’s obscure, shifting states
That replace the fat of inaction with decision’s lean.
His grace enters the world and molds our fates
Though without the limit of form or definite shape,
For all definitions are frozen contradictions not fit
For knowing; therefore, if you wish to travel on the Way,
Set out on it now to find the Simurgh, don’t prattle and sit
On your haunches till into stiffening death you stray.
All the birds who were by this agitation shook,
Aspired to a meeting place to prepare for the Shah,
To release in themselves the revelations of the Book;
They yearned so deeply for Him who is both near and far,
They were drawn to this sun and burned to an ember;
But the road was long and perilous that was open to offer.
Hooked by terror, though each was asked to remember
The truth, each an excuse to stay behind was keen to proffer.

— from The Conference of the Birds: The Selected Sufi Poetry of Farid ud-Din Attar, Translated by Raficq Abdulla

/ Photo by *higetiger /

In this spiritual allegory of the Conference of the Birds, Attar tells the story of a group of birds (individual human souls) under the leadership of a hoopoe bird (spiritual master) who determine to search for the legendary Simurgh (God). The birds must confront their own individual limitations and fears while journeying through seven valleys before they ultimately find the Simurgh and complete their quest.

In this excerpt the birds are determined “To release in themselves the revelations of the Book.” It is not enough to memorize or recite or intellectually comprehend sacred scriptures and traditions. Theological debate and mental curiosity won’t get you there: “…don’t prattle and sit / On your haunches till into stiffening death you stray.” Books, even the most sacred books, won’t get you there. They are maps, but you must actually make the journey to truly understand.

Here Attar urges us to “replace the fat of inaction with decision’s lean,” to forge a sacred determination to seek direct experience of the Divine and to not be content with passive descriptions.

But the soul quickly grows fearful of the journey, for it leads to distant, unknown lands (represented by China). And the individual identity doesn’t know what to expect when it completely merges with the Divine in that blazing union — “They were drawn to this sun and burned to an ember.”

Finally, the soul has to muster its determination any way it can, by joining a “conference” of like-minded seekers, by trusting the guidance of one who has made the journey already (the hoopoe), and through sheer stubborn will power. For, ultimately, the soul has no choice: it must make the journey, whether slowly or swiftly, courageously or cowardly. It is the nature of the soul to seek its eternal home. It is the nature of each bird to seek “this wondrous being,” the Simurgh.

So… are you all packed?

Farid ud-Din Attar, Farid ud-Din Attar poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Farid ud-Din Attar

Iran/Persia (1120? – 1220?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Farid ud-Din Attar was born in Nishapur, in north-east Iran. There is disagreement over the exact dates of his birth and death but several sources confirm that he lived about 100 years. He is traditionally said to have been killed by Mongol invaders. His tomb can be seen today in Nishapur.

As a younger man, Attar went on pilgrimage to Mecca and traveled extensively, seeking wisdom in Egypt, Damascus, India, and other areas, before finally returning to his home city of Nishapur.

The name Attar means herbalist or druggist, which was his profession. It is said that he saw as many as 500 patients a day in his shop, prescribing herbal remedies which he prepared himself, and he wrote his poetry while attending to his patients.

About thirty works by Attar survive, but his masterpiece is the Mantic at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds). In this collection, he describes a group of birds (individual human souls) under the leadership of a hoopoe (spiritual master) who determine to search for the legendary Simurgh bird (God). The birds must confront their own individual limitations and fears while journeying through seven valleys before they ultimately find the Simurgh and complete their quest. The 30 birds who ultimately complete the quest discover that they themselves are the Simurgh they sought, playing on a pun in Persian (si and murgh can translate as 30 birds) while giving us an esoteric teaching on the presence of the Divine within us.

Attar’s poetry inspired Rumi and many other Sufi poets. It is said that Rumi actually met Attar when Attar was an old man and Rumi was a boy, though some scholars dispute this possibility.

Farid ud-Din Attar was apparently tried at one point for heresy and exiled from Nishapur, but he eventually returned to his home city and that is where he died.

A traditional story is told about Attar’s death. He was taken prisoner by a Mongol during the invasion of Nishapur. Someone soon came and tried to ransom Attar with a thousand pieces of silver. Attar advised the Mongol not to sell him for that price. The Mongol, thinking to gain an even greater sum of money, refused the silver. Later, another person came, this time offering only a sack of straw to free Attar. Attar then told the Mongol to sell him for that was all he was worth. Outraged at being made a fool, the Mongol cut off Attar’s head.

Whether or not this is literally true isn’t the point. This story is used to teach the mystical insight that the personal self isn’t of much real worth. What is valuable is the Beloved’s presence within us — and that presence isn’t threatened by the death of the body.

More poetry by Farid ud-Din Attar

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Farid ud-Din Attar – The Simurgh”

  1. Barbaraon 13 Jun 2011 at 10:29 am

    thanks Ivan…appreciate all you do!

  2. Afton Blakeon 13 Jun 2011 at 10:57 am

    Ivan, this poem is synchronicity for my in inner work. I am exploring Quest dreams and on my own inner journey.
    Thank you, As always,


  3. Martinaon 13 Jun 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Dear Ivan,
    I love this explanation of the journey being more than reading the map. I love the hoopoe bird, and the burning to an ember in the divine fire.
    I am getting old, and I feel this in my bones.
    Love and thanks, martina

  4. Moin Quadrion 14 Jun 2011 at 6:23 am

    Dear Ivan,
    Thanks for the poems and the translations of sufi masters like Attar(R.A)
    Permit me to express my quest for the Haq, Titled Talaash-e- Haq in Urdu(transliteration is here):

    Kiski Talaash hai Junoon, Kiski Talaash hai Bataa
    Kisay Dhundti hai teri nazar, Tu qud hi hai Uska pataa.

    Dair o Haram Kaleesa na ghar, yeh sab tou hain bade Muqtasar.
    Paana hai jo Usay agar, Tutay huey diloun ko Laa.

    Rag e Jaan se bhi Qareeb hai, Teredil mein hi muqeem hai
    Jisay dekhta hai bata hai koun? Chahroun mein hai koun ayaan bata.

    Qatra hai tu, Dariya se mil, Zarrah hai tu ja kul se mil
    mita ke hasti Quda se mil, Kahan phir raha hai juda juda.

  5. nasihaon 15 Jun 2011 at 6:18 am

    Hi Ivan,
    loved it much , thank you very much.
    PS. i started reading the book once and fell in love with it but unfortunately i misplaced the book..

  6. Syl Clarkon 26 Jun 2011 at 10:56 am

    Have you come across “The Seven Valleys” (Baha’u’llah) ?

  7. Simerg/Simurgh – Ismailimailon 23 Jun 2018 at 7:10 am

    […] More here: http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2011/06/13/farid-ud-din-attar-the-simurgh/ […]

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