Bird Parliament
Farid ud-Din Attar
Islam
1:19 h
Bird Parliament is a celebrated Sufi poem, also known as Conference of the Birds, by the 12th century Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar, is a tale of a journey of a group of thirty birds to the summit of the world mountain, Qaf. An allegory of the Sufi journey to realization of the nature of God, each bird has a particular signficance, a special fault, and a tale to tell.
Bird Parliament
by Farid ud-Din Attar
translated by Edward Fitzgerald

Once on a time from all the Circles seven
Between the stedfast Earth and rolling Heaven
THE BIRDS, of all Note, Plumage, and Degree,
That float in Air, and roost upon the Tree;
And they that from the Waters snatch their Meat,
And they that scour the Desert with long Feet;
Birds of all Natures, known or not to Man,
Flock’d from all Quarters into full Divan,
On no less solemn business than to find
Or choose, a Sultan Khalif of their kind,
For whom, if never theirs, or lost, they pined.
The Snake had his, ’twas said; and so the Beast
His Lion-lord: and Man had his, at least:
And that the Birds, who nearest were the Skies,
And went apparell’d in its Angel Dyes.
Should be without— under no better Law
Than that which lost all other in the Maw
Disperst without a Bond of Union— nay,
Or meeting to make each the other’s Prey
This was the Grievance— this the solemn Thing
On which the scatter’d Commonwealth of Wing,
From all the four Winds, flying like to Cloud
That met and blacken’d Heav’n, and Thunder-loud
With Sound of whirring Wings and Beaks that clash’d
Down like a Torrent on the Desert dash’d:
Till by Degrees, the Hubbub and Pell-mell
Into some Order and Precedence fell,
And, Proclamation made of Silence, each
In special Accent, but in general Speech
That all should understand, as seem’d him best,
The Congregation of all Wings addrest.

And first, with Heart so full as from his Eyes
Ran weeping, up rose Tajidar the Wise;
The mystic Mark upon whose Bosom show’d
That He alone of all the Birds THE ROAD
Had travell’d: and the Crown upon his Head
Had reach’d the Goal; and He stood forth and said:

‘O Birds, by what Authority divine
I speak you know by His authentic Sign,
And Name, emblazon’d on my Breast and Bill:
Whose Counsel I assist at, and fulfil:
At His Behest I measured as he plann’d
The Spaces of the Air and Sea and Land;
I gauged the secret sources of the Springs
From Cloud to Fish: the Shadow of my Wings
Dream’d over sleeping Deluge: piloted
The Blast that bore Sulayman’s Throne: and led
The Cloud of Birds that canopied his Head;
Whose Word I brought to Balkis: and I shared
The Counsel that with Asaf he prepared.
And now you want a Khalif: and I know
Him, and his whereabout, and How to go:
And go alone I could, and plead your cause
Alone for all: but, by the eternal laws,
Yourselves by Toil and Travel of your own
Must for your old Delinquency atone.
Were you indeed not blinded by the Curse
Of Self-exile, that still grows worse and worse,
Yourselves would know that, though you see him not,
He is with you this Moment, on this Spot,
Your Lord through all Forgetfulness and Crime,
Here, There, and Everywhere, and through all Time.
But as a Father, whom some wayward Child
By sinful Self-will has unreconciled,
Waits till the sullen Reprobate at cost
Of long Repentance should regain the Lost;
Therefore, yourselves to see as you are seen,
Yourselves must bridge the Gulf you made between
By such a Search and Travel to be gone
Up to the mighty mountain Kaf, whereon
Hinges the World, and round about whose Knees
Into one Ocean mingle the Sev’n Seas;
In whose impenetrable Forest-folds
Of Light and Dark “Symurgh” his Presence holds;
Not to be reach’d, if to be reach’d at all
But by a Road the stoutest might apal;
Of Travel not of Days or Months, but Years
Life-long perhaps: of Dangers, Doubts, and Fears
As yet unheard of: Sweat of Blood and Brain
Interminable— often all in vain
And, if successful, no Return again:
A Road whose very Preparation scared
The Traveller who yet must be prepared.
Who then this Travel to Result would bring
Needs both a Lion’s Heart beneath the Wing,
And even more, a Spirit purified
Of Worldly Passion, Malice, Lust, and Pride:
Yea, ev’n of Worldly Wisdom, which grows dim
And dark, the nearer it approaches Him,
Who to the Spirit’s Eye alone reveal’d,
By sacrifice of Wisdom’s self unseal’d;
Without which none who reach the Place could bear
To look upon the Glory dwelling there.’

One Night from out the swarming City Gate
Stept holy Bajazyd, to meditate
Alone amid the breathing Fields that lay
In solitary Silence leagues away,
Beneath a Moon and Stars as bright as Day.
And the Saint wondering such a Temple were,
And so lit up, and scarce one worshipper,
A voice from Heav’n amid the stillness said:
‘The Royal Road is not for all to tread,
Nor is the Royal Palace for the Rout,
Who, even if they reach it, are shut out.
The Blaze that from my Harim window breaks
With fright the Rabble of the Roadside takes;
And ev’n of those that at my Portal din,
Thousands may knock for one that enters in.’

Thus spoke the Tajidar: and the wing’d Crowd,
That underneath his Word in Silence bow’d,
Clapp’d Acclamation: and their Hearts and Eyes
Were kindled by the Firebrand of the Wise.
They felt their Degradation: they believed
The word that told them how to be retrieved,
And in that glorious Consummation won
Forgot the Cost at which it must be done.
‘They only long’d to follow: they would go
Whither he led, through Flood, or Fire, or Snow’
So cried the Multitude. But some there were
Who listen’d with a cold disdainful air,
Content with what they were, or grudging Cost
Of Time or Travel that might all be lost;
These, one by one, came forward, and preferr’d
Unwise Objection: which the wiser Word
Shot with direct Reproof, or subtly round
With Argument and Allegory wound.

The Pheasant first would know by what pretence
The Tajidar to that pre-eminence
Was raised— a Bird, but for his lofty Crest
(And such the Pheasant had) like all the Rest
Who answer’d— ‘By no Virtue of my own
Sulayman chose me, but by His alone:
Not by the Gold and Silver of my Sighs
Made mine, but the free Largess of his Eyes.
Behold the Grace of Allah comes and goes
As to Itself is good: and no one knows
Which way it turns: in that mysterious Court
Not he most finds who furthest travels for’t.
For one may crawl upon his knees Life-long,
And yet may never reach, or all go wrong:
Another just arriving at the Place
He toil’d for, and— the Door shut in his Face:
Whereas Another, scarcely gone a Stride,
And suddenly— Behold he is Inside!
But though the Runner win not, he that stands,
No Thorn will turn to Roses in his Hands:
Each one must do his best and all endure,
And all endeavour, hoping but not sure.
Heav’n its own Umpire is; its Bidding do,
And Thou perchance shalt be Sulayman’s too.’

One day Shah Mahmud, riding with the Wind
A-hunting, left his Retinue behind,
And coming to a River, whose swift Course
Doubled back Game and Dog, and Man and Horse,
Beheld upon the Shore a little Lad
A-fishing, very poor, and Tatter-clad
He was, and weeping as his Heart would break.
So the Great Sultan, for good humour’s sake
Pull’d in his Horse a moment, and drew nigh,
And after making his Salam, ask’d why
He wept— weeping, the Sultan said, so sore
As he had never seen one weep before.
The Boy look’d up, and ‘O Amir,’ he said,
‘Sev’n of us are at home, and Father dead,
And Mother left with scarce a Bit of Bread:
And now since Sunrise have I fish’d— and see!
Caught nothing for our Supper— Woe is Me!’
The Sultan lighted from his horse. ‘Behold,’
Said he, ‘Good Fortune will not be controll’d:
And, since Today yours seems to turn from you,
Suppose we try for once what mine will do,
And we will share alike in all I win.’
So the Shah took, and flung his Fortune in,
The Net; which, cast by the Great Mahmud’s Hand,
A hundred glittering Fishes brought to Land.
The Lad look’d up in Wonder— Mahmud smiled
And vaulted into Saddle. But the Child
Ran after— ‘Nay, Amir, but half the Haul
Is yours by Bargain’— ‘Nay, Today take all,’
The Sultan cried, and shook his Bridle free
‘But mind— Tomorrow All belongs to Me
And so rode off. Next morning at Divan
The Sultan’s Mind upon his Bargain ran,
And being somewhat in a mind for sport
Sent for the Lad: who, carried up to Court,
And marching into Royalty’s full Blaze
With such a Catch of Fish as yesterday’s,
The Sultan call’d and set him by his side,
And asking him, ‘What Luck?’ The Boy replied,
This is the Luck that follows every Cast,
Since o’er my Net the Sultan’s Shadow pass’d.’

Then came The Nightingale, from such a Draught
Of Ecstasy that from the Rose he quaff’d
Reeling as drunk, and ever did distil
In exquisite divisions from his Bill
To inflame the Hearts of Men— and thus sang He
‘To me alone, alone, is giv’n the Key
Of Love; of whose whole Mystery possesst,
When I reveal a little to the Rest,
Forthwith Creation listening forsakes
The Reins of Reason, and my Frenzy takes:
Yea, whosoever once has quaint this wine
He leaves unlisten’d David’s Song for mine.
In vain do Men for my Divisions strive,
And die themselves making dead Lutes alive:
I hang the Stars with Meshes for Men’s Souls:
The Garden underneath my Music rolls.
The long, long Morns that mourn the Rose away
I sit in silence, and on Anguish prey:
But the first Air which the New Year shall breathe
Up to my Boughs of Message from beneath
That in her green Harim my Bride unveils,
My Throat bursts silence and her Advent hails,
Who in her crimson Volume registers
The Notes of Him whose Life is lost in hers.
The Rose I love and worship now is here;
If dying, yet reviving, Year by Year;
But that you tell of, all my Life why waste
In vainly searching; or, if found, not taste?’

So with Division infinite and Trill
On would the Nightingale have warbled still,
And all the World have listen’d; but a Note
Of sterner Import check’d the lovesick Throat.

‘O watering with thy melodious Tears
Love’s Garden, and who dost indeed the Ears
Of men with thy melodious Fingers mould
As David’s Finger Iron did of old:
Why not, like David, dedicate thy Dower
Of Song to something better than a Flower?
Empress indeed of Beauty, so they say,
But one whose Empire hardly lasts a Day,
By Insurrection of the Morning’s Breath
That made her hurried to Decay and Death:
And while she lasts contented to be seen,
And worshipt, for the Garden’s only Queen,
Leaving thee singing on thy Bough forlorn,
Or if she smile on Thee, perhaps in Scorn.’

Like that fond Dervish waiting in the throng
When some World-famous Beauty went along,
Who smiling on the Antic as she pass’d
Forthwith Staff, Bead and Scrip away he cast,
And grovelling in the Kennel, took to whine
Before her Door among the Dogs and Swine.
Which when she often went unheeding by,
But one day quite as heedless ask’d him— ‘Why?’
He told of that one Smile, which, all the Rest
Passing, had kindled Hope within his Breast
Again she smiled and said, ‘O self-beguiled
Poor Wretch, at whom and not on whom I smiled.’

Then came the subtle Parrot in a coat
Greener than Greensward, and about his Throat
A Collar ran of sub-sulphureous Gold;
And in his Beak a Sugar-plum he troll’d,
That all his Words with luscious Lisping ran,
And to this Tune— ‘O cruel Cage, and Man
More iron still who did confine me there,
Who else with him whose Livery I wear
Ere this to his Eternal Fount had been,
And drunk what should have kept me ever-green.
But now I know the Place, and I am free
To go, and all the Wise will follow Me.
Some’— and upon the Nightingale one Eye
He leer’d— ‘for nothing but the Blossom sigh:
But I am for the luscious Pulp that grows
Where, and for which the Blossom only blows:
And which so long as the Green Tree provides
What better grows along Kaf’s dreary Sides?
And what more needful Prophet there than He
Who gives me Life to nip it from the Tree?’

To whom the Tajidar— ‘O thou whose Best
In the green leaf of Paradise is drest,
But whose Neck kindles with a lower Fire
O slip the collar off of base Desire,
And stand apparell’d in Heav’n’s Woof entire!
This Life that hangs so sweet about your Lips
But, spite of all your Khizar, slips and slips,
What is it but itself the coarser Rind
Of the True Life withinside and behind,
Which he shall never never reach unto
Till the gross Shell of Carcase he break through?’

For what said He, that dying Hermit, whom
Your Prophet came to, trailing through the Gloom
His Emerald Vest, and tempted— ‘Come with Me,
And Live.’ The Hermit answered— ‘Not with Thee.
Two Worlds there are, and This was thy Design,
And thou hast got it; but The Next is mine;
Whose Fount is this life’s Death, and to whose Side
Ev’n now I find my Way without a Guide.’

Then like a Sultan glittering in all Rays
Of Jewelry, and deckt with his own Blaze,
The glorious Peacock swept into the Ring:
And, turning slowly that the glorious Thing
Might fill all Eyes with wonder, thus said He.
‘Behold, the Secret Artist, making me,
With no one Colour of the skies bedeckt,
But from its Angel’s Feathers did select
To make up mine withal, the Gabriel
Of all the Birds: though from my Place I fell
In Eden, when Acquaintance I did make
In those blest days with that Sev’n-headed Snake,
And thence with him, my perfect Beauty marr’d
With these ill Feet, was thrust out and debarr’d.
Little I care for Worldly Fruit or Flower,
Would you restore me to lost Eden’s Bower,
But first my Beauty making all complete
With reparation of these ugly Feet.’

‘Were it,’ ’twas answer’d, ‘only to return
To that lost Eden, better far to burn
In Self-abasement up thy pluméd Pride,
And ev’n with lamer feet to creep inside
But all mistaken you and all like you
That long for that lost Eden as the true;
Fair as it was, still nothing but the shade
And Out-court of the Majesty that made.
That which I point you tow’rd, and which the King
I tell you of broods over with his Wing,
With no deciduous leaf, but with the Rose
Of Spiritual Beauty, smells and glows:
No plot of Earthly Pleasance, but the whole
True Garden of the Universal Soul.’