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:

 

ConferenceBirdsWolpéIntro.jpeg

 

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

 

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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.

 

ConferenceBirdsRing

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

 

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Posted in books, faith, history, poetry, translation

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