The Speech of the Birds
By Faridu’d-Din Attar (1145-1221),
Presented and translated by: PETER
The Islamic Texts Society
Paperback 582 Pages
ISBN: 0 946621 70 5
Appendix I: Stories in the Mantiqu’t-Tair
Appendix II: ‘The Birds’ Story’ of Ahmad al-Ghazali
Mantiqu’t-Tair is one of the
masterpieces of Persian literature of which a complete and annotated translation
into English is here presented for the first time as The Speech of the Birds.
The text revolves around the decision of the birds of the world to seek out a
king. Their debilitating doubts and fears, the knowing counsel of their leader
Hoopoe, and their choice of the Simurgh as a king, is in reality an allegory of
the spiritual path of Sufism with its demands, its hazards and its infinite
rewards. The poem contains many admonitory anecdotes and exemplary stories,
including numerous references to some of the early Muslim mystics such as Rabi’a
al-’Adawiyya, Abu Sa’id ibn Abi’l-Khair, Mansur al-Hallaj and Shibli, among
others. In The Speech of the Birds, Peter Avery has not only given us a precise
and moving translation, but also ample annotation providing much information to
fill in what Attar would have expected his readers to know. The result is a
fascinating insight into a remarkable aspect of Islam: the world of ecstatic
love of the Persian mystics. The Speech of the Birds will be of interest to
everyone who values great literature, as well as to all students of Persian and
Brought up in a Sufi ambiance, the author of this work, Faridu’d-Din Attar
(1145-1221), was an apothecary who lived near Nishapur. Attar, whom legend
describes as having taken to the Sufi path in earnest after he witnessed a
dervish surrender his soul outside his shop, went on to become one of the most
famous Sufi poets in history, best known for his classical work the
Peter Avery was Persian lecturer at Cambridge from 1958 until 1990.
Speech of the Birds is the first complete translation in prose of Attar’s
Mantiqu’t-Tair. More important, Avery’s copious notes...are invaluable - a real
mini-encyclopaedia of mysticism in general and of Sufism in particular, which
enhances the understanding and the pleasure of poetry.’ Times Higher Education
from the Book
A robber came up with some unlucky fellow.
Tying his hands, he had him at his mercy.
He went off to fetch a sword to cut off his head.
It was then that his wife gave the captive a crust of bread.
When the man came back with the sword,
Then he saw that the poor wretch had a piece of bread in his hand.
He asked, “Who gave you, you friendless one, bread?”
The man answered, “None but your own gave it.”
When the man heard this complete answer,
He said, “Killing you has become forbidden to me,
Because any man who’s broken our bread,
The sword may not be turned against him.
To one who’s eaten our bread there’s no begrudging life.
How might I spill his blood with the sword?”
O Creator, I have brought myself onto the Path:
the bread I have eaten is from Your table.
When someone breaks the bread of another,
He puts that other under obligation.
© The Islamic Texts Society 2002-2008
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