Jul 24 2015

Farid ud-Din Attar – A dervish in ecstasy

Published by at 9:38 am under Poetry

A dervish in ecstasy
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

A frenzied dervish, mad with love for God,
Sought out bare hills where none had ever trod.
Wild leopards kept this madman company —
His heart was plunged in restless ecstasy;
He lived within this state for twenty days,
Dancing and singing in exultant praise:
“There’s no division; we two are alone —
The world of happiness and grief has flown.”
Die to yourself — no longer stay apart,
But give to Him who asks for it your heart;
The man whose happiness derives from Him
Escapes existence, and the world grows dim;
Rejoice for ever in the Friend, rejoice
Till you are nothing, but a praising voice.

— from The Conference of the Birds, Translated by Afkham Darbandi / Translated by Dick Davis


/ Image by vakatanka /

A frenzied dervish, mad with love for God…

I think we, like the wild leopards, should keep this madman company for a while…

…Sought out bare hills where none had ever trod.

This idea of retreating into the desert or the forest always had a romantic appeal to me, especially in my 20s and 30s. That instinct for renunciation and retreat has an interesting tension. In its best form, it is about seeking the essence of things, learning to recognize the essential self. There is the intense desire — or need, really — to clear the mind and settle the heart.

To accomplish this, like the dervish in this poem, we often want to withdraw, retreat from the world. But what is “the world”? We can loosely say that “the world” is society, but that’s not it exactly. Really, “the world” we are trying to withdraw from is more an idea of reality. We are attempting to separate from the consensus trance.

This is an important point that we too often forget in our daily lives: Even in our most pragmatic, mundane activity, we are in trance. We don’t enter trance in those rarified moments, like the dervish in his ecstasy; we are always in trance. And we are always seeking trance. We humans are trance-seeking creatures. Virtually every choice we make is about cultivating trance. We watch TV and surf the Internet because of the trance it induces. We eat food as much for how it makes us feel as for nourishment. Falling in love is trance. Family conversation is trance. A good day at work is one form of trance, and a bad day is another form of trance. Every action of every day is an attempt to fine tune our mental and emotional states because of how they affect our perception of reality. We are endlessly forming and reforming trance.

But the frustrating thing is that we learn early on that there is a very limited range of trance that is acceptable or even achievable. We quickly come to believe that this fixed range is the full spectrum of reality. We all subscribe to this in order to be acceptable and considered “normal” within society. And, for the child moving into adolescence, taking on that consensus trance is hugely important, allowing us to stabilize psychologically and form healthy relationships with others. It is also a serious problem, since it has nothing to do with actual limitations of reality or our true nature.

It is this shared trance that we call “the world,” which seekers instinctively feel the need to withdraw from in order to begin to see clearly, free from the psychic pressures of society to remain within a certain limited bandwidth of awareness. When done with balance, steadiness… and reverence, such withdrawal from the world can lead to surprising clarity, opening, and bliss.

But here is the potential problem with all of this: Retreat also necessarily implies separation. We are separating from the world. We are separating from what we imagine to be foolish and lost humanity. In the struggle to free oneself from the gravitational pull of societal reality, it is easy to become rigid, aloof, even hard-hearted. We have divided reality between what is holy or sacred or “true” from the secular, mundane, and “illusory.” Such a division, any division, within our view of reality can never hold up for long. It can become a recipe for spiritual disaster.

Here is how I understand the solution to this dilemma: That sense of separating oneself, retreating in order to discover an awareness that is pure or more essential — whether through literal retreat, or on a purely internal level — can be immensely helpful at certain points along the spiritual journey. But we must always remember that it is a phase of the journey and not the end goal. In other words, we may choose to step out into the desert, but we remain connected to the world through compassion and commitment. We will eventually return to “the world,” hopefully with a transformed awareness and very little of the little self left. When we have the vision of the full Reality, we come to recognize that the small section we call “the world” is no longer the world, yet that shadowy thought-reality still has its place within the Whole — and that is the place that most awaits the gifts we return with.

Rejoice for ever in the Friend, rejoice
Till you are nothing, but a praising voice.


Recommended Books: Farid ud-Din Attar

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Conference of the Birds
More Books >>


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 what is today 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. (The profession can also carry implications of being an alchemist.) 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

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Farid ud-Din Attar – A dervish in ecstasy”

  1. Frances Swaineon 24 Jul 2015 at 11:41 am

    This poem describes the beginning of mania as I and some of my bipolar friends experience it before it gets to the Icarus phase so to speak. I am on a quest to understand my mind/body/spirit dance with in this worldly diagnosis and my experience of it as an archetypical collision or emergence with divine revelation. Thank you so much for this wonder filled poem. Have fantastic weekend! peace and blessings through words and manifesting.

  2. Susie Rockon 27 Jul 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Frances find yourself a Sufi teacher.

  3. Therese Monaghanon 28 Jul 2015 at 7:25 am

    “Give to Him your heart” in Attar’s poem tells it all
    for me– wipes out distinctions and opens us us to compassion for the world. Thanks, Ivan
    Love and peace, Therese

  4. […] A dervish in ecstasy by Farid ud-Din Attar English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2015/07/24/farid-ud-din-attar-a-dervish-in-ecstasy/ Photo: Lubna […]

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