Conference Of The Birds Summary

Farid ud-Din Attar

Conference Of The Birds

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Conference Of The Birds Summary

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The Conference of the Birds is an epic poem by Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar, first published in 1177 AD and considered one of the greatest masterpieces of Persian literature. Consisting of more than 4,500 lines, the poem’s story centers around the birds of the world gathering to pick a king to lead them. The hoopoe, known as the wisest bird, leads them on a quest to find the legendary Simorgh, a mythical bird akin to the phoenix. The hoopoe leads the birds through seven perilous valleys on a quest, each valley representing a fear or fault that keeps people from attaining enlightenment. Eventually, the birds that make it through these trials find the Simorgh, in a sense, and enlightenment with it. The Conference of the Birds explores themes such as examination of the self, the failings each person has within them, and the search for leadership and guidance both without and within. Widely influential and compared to other epic poems, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf in terms of its scope, it is still studied and analyzed today. It has been translated into languages around the world, with an illustrated version being released by acclaimed children’s author Peter Sis, and was adapted into a 1979 play of the same title by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere, which was staged in New York and Paris. It is also spotlighted in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the form of a collection of 16th century watercolor paintings representing the main characters.

The Conference of the Birds begins with all the birds of the world gathering for the titular conference. They realize they lack a leader, and decide that they should pick a king. However, none can agree on who should lead them, so they seek out the wisdom of the hoopoe, known as the wisest of all birds. The hoopoe is seen as an allegory of a Sufi sheikh, a master leading his students to enlightenment. The hoopoe suggests that the fitting king for them would be the Simorgh, a mystical bird never seen by any of them. However, the journey will be long and perilous, the hoopoe warns them, and will take them through seven valleys filled with trials and tests. Countless birds set out on the journey, but only those who can stand the tests that await them will see the end and find the Simorgh. The birds encounter the valleys one by one, and in each one, some fail to make it out. The first valley is the Valley of the Quest, where those on a journey must begin their mission by casting away all their dogma and belief, opening their minds to all possibilities. From there, they travel on to the Valley of Love. Here, their test is to let go of vision and accept the possibility that love cannot be fully understood, but must be embraced with a full heart.

Third comes the Valley of Knowledge, where the birds that remain must accept that all their worldly knowledge has no use in this realm, and they must open their way to a greater knowledge. The fourth valley is the Valley of Detachment, where the challenge is to let go of all desires and attachments they have in the world. This is where they cast off what is assumed to be reality and open their eyes to a greater understanding. In the fifth valley, the Valley of Unity, the birds journeying realize that everything is connected. The greater power, known as the Beloved, is beyond everything they know. This includes universal concepts such as eternity itself. The sixth valley is the Valley of Wonderment, where the travelers are enchanted by the beauty of the Beloved. Although perplexed, they are overtaken by awe and realize that all they knew before was meaningless. Finally comes the Valley of Poverty and Annihilation, where the self disappears and the travelers ascend beyond time itself, existing in both the past and the future at the same time. By the end of this perilous journey through the seven valleys, only thirty birds remain. They are all changed forever by this experience. The hoopoe tells them they have arrived at the dwelling place of the Simorgh, and guides them to a lake. There, they gaze in, and see the Simorgh looking back at them in their own reflections. They realize that the divinity they were seeking, the ideal leader who could guide them to greatness and unity, was within them all along.

Farid ud-Din Attar was a Persian poet, Sufi scholar, and hagiographer who is considered one of the most influential Persian literary and religious figures. Although information on his life is limited, the writings he left behind are still widely read today, with The Conference of the Birds being his most famous work. He is considered to have been a heavy influence on the later Persian poet Rumi. Under his pen name Attar, he worked as a pharmacist and is believed to have heavily advanced Persian medical science. He is still revered today as a Sufi sage, and adherents to the religion study his work most heavily, although he is also read extensively by religious studies scholars.