“The Talk of Birds” by Farid al-Din Attar: “He is not a man whose soul did not suffer.”

Farid al-Din Attar’s work The Talk of Birds is one of the most important classics of Islamic mysticism, and a new edition rich in illustrations has been published in the Eastern edition. By Gerrit Westman

Many know in Germany Jalal al-Din Rumi. The Persian mystic, born in 1207 in what is now Afghanistan and died in 1273 in Konya in Turkey, is the world’s best-selling poet and is sought after by Iranians and Turks alike for the many stages in his life.

The situation varies with his Sufi teacher Farid al-Din Attar, born around 1136 in Nishapur in Iran, depending on the source, and may have died around 1220 during the Mughal attack. His central work, Conversations of Birds, which the Islamic scholar Anne-Marie Schimmel rightly described as a “masterpiece,” is considered one of the most important verses not only on Persian mysticism but in world literature.

The long, extended poem deals with the spiritual world of Sufism, which it recounts in a sweeping parable: The Hoopoe in the Qur’an calls the Prophet between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba the birds of the world to accompany him on the arduous, year-long journey to escort Mount Qaf where he promises to find the King of Birds Simurg.

But the hoopoe first encounters great resistance, rejection, and suspicion. Many birds do not want to join him for a variety of reasons, yet he tries to convince them, each of them, with mixed success:

“” life! Yes what you will see of its splendor? What of the winter for you when your bones do not tremble in the bitter cold, and what of the spring that does not poison you, and what of the sky when you do not lose? in it?

To what extent will life at death end in vain if you do not make it meaningful by then? Life is for your use, to serve you for a short time, and to be a worthy companion. Life, what do you have to offer the souls? He’s not a man who didn’t hurt himself either. But the parrot made his decision: he wanted to stay and go back to his beautiful golden cage. ”

The Nightingale, on the other hand, how could it be otherwise, sees herself so overwhelmed by her unhappy love for the rose that she lacks openness to everything else.

On the path to self-knowledge

It is passages like these that illustrate the immortality of “Bird Talks”. Attar uses birds to identify human attitudes, characteristics and weaknesses, and no matter what the hoopoe is called, it always depends on the persuasive power of the word. Clear references to the Qur’an have been found – this must be mentioned because many local translations of Sufi literature are flattened for a Western audience.

Explicit or supposedly incomprehensible religious references are removed. This approach by publishers boosted Rumi’s popularity, for example, by making it easy to understand. In the end, versions of the works were presented that had little to do with what Rumi and others intended in their poetry.

Finally, a huge flock of birds, followed by the hoopoe, makes their way to Qaf, and this journey through the Seven Valleys of the Mystical Path is the proverbial goal. So many birds fall by the wayside that only thirty of them finally manage to meet Simurgh, that is, themselves, and gain self-knowledge. Because “si murgh” means “thirty birds”.

There are now several German translations or adaptations of “Conversations of Birds” by Farid al-Din Attar. A whole new translation has been translated into prose by Islamic scholar Katia Vollmer under the title The Conference on Birds, published in 2008 by Marix Verlag. It has been reprinted several times since then.

Edition Orient now presents a new deluxe, bilingual, German-Persian, large-format, semi-linen cover and richly illustrated edition by Iranian artist Mohammad Baranji, born in 1988, working on self-made paper in an old handwriting. Ink pens and pencils. This gives his mysterious drawings the appearance of ancient manuscripts or stone panels at times, so that when you browse through them you think you are under the dome of an old vault or when you look at the weather-broken tiles at the entrance to the mosque.

Its technique of imagery and calligraphy allows it to oscillate between massive pictorial presence and simultaneous ambiguity, which varies in decorative repetition and thus not only accompany but complement the text itself, making this new edition a work of visually totality poetic. .

Gerrit Westman

© Qantara.de 2022

Farid al-Din Attar, “Bird Talks”, Orient Edition, Berlin 2022, bilingual Persian-German, text edited by Marjan Foladand, translated from Persian by Thomas Auger, illustrations by Muhammad Barangi, 96 pages

Leave a Comment