The Conference of the Birds

This is extraordinarily beautiful and surprisingly gripping. Translated by a bilingual poet who made the wise decision to sacrifice the rhyme to keep the essences of the story, it sings.

As Sholeh Wolpé says, translating medieval Persian into modern English can only work well with some letting go of form. She describes it as the reflection of the sky in the sea – the image has a different substance and moves in a totally different way. Her introduction is incisive:




This mystical journey of the soul to oneness with the divine is told with humour and deftness. Much more fun than Pilgrim’s Progress.



As a European Christian reader it was fascinating to see familiar stories of Joseph and his brothers, Jonah and the whale, or Jesus and the needle (bet you didn’t know that one) through Islamic Sufi eyes. The being drunk with love and longing for the divine reminded me of Dominican spirituality: Catherine of Siena and Meister Eckhart.



The author, Attar, was a 12th century Persian mystic who inspired the great Rumi.


This is the sort of book that is really worth getting in physical hard copy so you can share it with others. I will also return to it again and again, and I’m sure I will find something new every time.  As Attar says in his in his opening verses, “they are like beauty under a veil / that reveals its loveliness slowly.” 


The image is from The Many Flavors of Sufism essay by Katherine Seidel, in Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook


Translator, editor, writer, reader

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in books, faith, history, poetry, translation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

advent Alice in Wonderland American And Other Stories Antonia Lloyd-Jones Arabic Argentina Beowulf Berlin Best Translated Book Award Bible books Brazil Brazilian Portuguese British British Library Buddhism Catalan Children's Books China Chinese Christmas Christmas Carols Contemporary Czesław Miłosz Danish Dari David Hackston Dublin Literary Award English Estonian Fantasy Farsi Fiction Finland Finland 100 Finlandia Prize Finnish Flemish Free Word Centre French George Szirtes German Greek Hebrew Herbert Lomas Herta Müller history Hungarian Iceland Idioms Illustration India international International Translation Day Irish Gaelic Italian J. R. R. Tolkien Japanese Jenny Erpenbeck Johanna Sinisalo Korean Language language learning Languages Latin Literature Lola Rogers Lord of the Rings Mabinogion Man Booker International Prize Maori Maria Turtschaninoff Moomins New Year Nobel Prize Nobel Prize for Literature Norwegian Old English Olga Tokarczuk Owen Witesman Oxford English Dictionary Penguin PEN Translation Prize Persian Philip Boehm Phoneme Media Poetry Poetry Translation Centre Polish Portuguese Pushkin Press Queer Romanian Rosa Liksom Russian Salla Simukka Second World War Short Stories Sofi Oksanen Spanish Stanisław Barańczak Suomi100 Susan Bernofsky Svetlana Alexievich Swedish Switzerland Thomas Teal Tibetan Tove Jansson transation Translation translator Translators Without Borders Valentine's Day Wales Warsaw Welsh Wisława Szymborska Witold Szabłowski Women in Translation Month words Words without Borders writing YA

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow found in translation on
%d bloggers like this: