Conference of the Birds

The Conference of the Birds, a Persian epic poem, Farid ud-Din Attar, who is commonly known as Attar of Nishapurin, was written in the 12thcentury. In the poem, the birds gather to decide who is to be their sovereign, as they have none. The hoopoe, the wisest of them all, suggests that they should find the Simorgh- King of Birds. Hoopoe leads the birds, who each represent a human vice, which impedes them from the path them along this journey. The Valley: “

  1. Valley of the Quest, where the Wayfarer begins by casting aside all dogma, belief, and unbelief.
  2. Valley of Love, where reason is abandoned for the sake of love.
  3. Valley of Knowledge, where worldly knowledge becomes utterly useless.
  4. Valley of Detachment, where all desires and attachments to the world are given up. Here, what is assumed to be “reality” vanishes.
  5. Valley of Unity, where the Wayfarer realizes that everything is connected and that the Beloved is beyond everything, including harmony, multiplicity, and eternity.
  6. Valley of Wonderment, where, entranced by the beauty of the Beloved, the Wayfarer becomes perplexed and, steeped in awe, finds that he or she has never known or understood anything.
  7. Valley of Poverty and Annihilation, where the self disappears into the universe and the Wayfarer becomes timeless, existing in both the past and the future.” (Attar translated by Sholeh Wolpé)

The Hoopoe gives advice throughout the poem such as

“Dear nightingale, this superficial love makes you quail, Is only for the outward show of things” (27).

Through this, he guides them to the Sufi path which is represented by the 7 valleys listed above. This pathway is leads to the removal of material and worldly desires in exchange for the full annihilation of yourself in the Divine’s grace. Often in lecture and section, we speak of how poetic language, like the Qur’an, must be experienced not recited. The ability to watch the Conference of the Birds in Boston and how it incorporated full kinesthetic and dance movements for expressing this journey was very unique. It serves as how this journey is spiritual and not needed to be expressed in words but experienced with the soul.

 

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