Conference Of The Birds Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 33-page guide for “Conference Of The Birds” by Farid ud-Din Attar includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Necessity of Destroying the Self and The Importance of Passionate Love.
Considered widely as a masterpiece of Persian literature, Farid ud-Din Attar’s epic poem, The Conference of the Birds, tells the story of thirty birds on a journey to find their ideal Sovereign, the Great Simorgh, the mythical bird that dwells on Mount Qaf, a legendary mountain that encompasses the earth. First published in 1077 CE and consisting of more than 4,500 lines, the central concern of the poem is Sufism, a mystical doctrine of Islam. Muslim practitioners of Sufism seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience with God. The hoopoe, known as the wisest and most enlightened bird, leads the group on their journey through the seven valleys to meet their leader. The relationship between the hoopoe and the other birds is an extended allegory of a Sufi sheikh’s guidance of his religious pupils along the path to enlightenment. Similarly, the obstacles encountered by the birds on their journey through the Seven Valleys allegorically describes the stages encountered by the Sufi’s Way to the true way of God. Eventually, the birds reach the court of the Simorgh and attain enlightenment, but the Great Simorgh is not the mythical bird they expected to find.
The Conference of the Birds begins with the birds of the world gathering at a summit in order to seek a king. They turn to the wise hoopoe for guidance, who tells them that they should acknowledge the Great Simorgh as their king, but that the journey to his court is long and perilous, and filled with trials and tests. At first, the birds are excited to embark on this quest, but begin to make excuses to stay behind when they realize the quest’s difficulty. The hoopoe addresses each of their hesitations, fears, vanities, and questions with parables and anecdotes that counter each of their individual concerns. The birds formally adopt the hoopoe as their leader, and the hoopoe describes the seven valleys they must cross in order to reach the Great Simorgh’s court: the Valley of the Quest, the Valley of Love, the Valley of Insight into Mystery, the Valley of Detachment, the Valley of Unity, the Valley of Bewilderment, and, finally, the Valley of Poverty and Nothingness. Many of the birds are distressed by the hoopoe’s words and some even die of fright, but despite their apprehensions, the birds begin their journey.
In the Valley of the Quest, the travelers must cast aside all dogma, belief, and unbelief to open their minds to possibility. They continue to the Valley of Love, where they must abandon reason and embrace passionate love with a full heart. From there, they reach the Valley of Insight into Mystery, where the birds must accept the uselessness of worldly knowledge and open their minds to a new way of thinking. In the fourth valley, the Valley of Detachment, all worldly desires and attachments must be relinquished and assumptions of the nature of reality must vanish. The Valley of Unity commands the birds to realize that everything is connected and that the divine power of the Beloved is beyond everything known. They continue to the Valley of Bewilderment, where the birds are both perplexed and in awe of the Beloved, which allows them to realize everything they knew before this point was meaningless. Finally, in the Valley of Poverty and Nothingness, the self disappears into the universe and the travelers are no longer confined by linear time; instead, they exist in both the past and the future. Many birds perish along the journey, and by the end only thirty birds remain. The hoopoe guides them to a lake, where they see the Simorgh in their own reflections. The Great Simorgh, and the divine leadership they were seeking, was within them all along, as the name Simorgh, meaning thirty (si) birds (morgh) attests.
A Note on Translation: The poem was written in masnavi, the common meter of Persian narrative poetry. It adheres to a meter of ten or eleven syllables per line, in rhyming couplets. The translators of the Penguin Classics edition, Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis, chose to retain the structure of rhyming couplets throughout the poem, though there are other translations of The Conference of the Birds that do not adhere to the poem’s original poetic structure in order to focus on translating individual language as closely as possible. In your reading, please be aware of the discrepancies between translations.