The Simurgh

by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Raficq Abdulla
Original Language Persian/Farsi

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

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

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 king of the birds, 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 us there: "...don't prattle and sit / On your haunches till into stiffening death you stray." Books, even the most sacred books, won't get us there. They are maps, but we 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. 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?

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 Conferences of the Birds
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The Simurgh