The epic poem of 4,455 lines is about a Quest, undertaken by the birds in this poem for the wondrous king known as Simorgh. It is orchestrated by a hoopoe who serves as the motivator and mentor for the rest. The hoopoe, who summons them to the quest may represent a sheik or holy man among Muslims.
The traveling birds have to traverse Valleys swarming with dangers – Valley of the Quest, Valley of Love, of Knowledge, of Detachment, of Unity, of Wonderment, and finally the Valley of Poverty and Annihilation. Each is symbolic of a stage in the journey where one sheds something, or realizes something, or becomes perplexed. Many of the birds perish along the way from different causes. In the end only thirty birds make it to see the Simorgh, and to their consternation the birds learn that they themselves are the Simorgh; ‘Simorgh’ in Farsi means thirty (si) birds (morgh).
They ask (but inwardly; they make no sound)
This epic poem is an allegorical summary of the Sufi teaching that the divine lies within each believer’s soul. God is all that truly exists; everything else, including our worldly selves, is merely a shadow of His or Her presence.
Attar traveled through all the seven cities of love
The documentary-maker Merrily Weisbord from Montreal travelled to India in 1995 to meet Kamala Das. Over the next 14 years their friendship grew and they shared experiences. The result is The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das:
The epic poem of 4,455 lines is about a Quest, undertaken by the birds in this poem for the wondrous king known as Simorgh. It is orchestrated by a hoopoe who serves as the motivator and mentor for the rest. The hoopoe, who summons them to the quest, speaks:
You can listen to KumKum reading Muriel Spark's poems at this link.
This happens on an average one year
that there are always
But usually that shoe that I
deadens all our pain,
Having a Coke with You
Here is another example, a story illustrating how lovers may become one:
The lover who saved his beloved from drowning
A girl fell in a river – in a flash
Her lover dived in with a mighty splash,
And fought the current till he reached her side.
When they were safe again, the poor girl cried:
“By chance I tumbled in, but why should you
Come after me and hazard your life too?”
He said: “I dived because the difference
Of ‘I’ and ‘you’ to lovers makes no sense –
A long time passed when we were separate,
But now that we have reached this single state
When you are me and I am wholly you,
What use is it to talk of us as two?”
All talk of two implies plurality –
When two has gone there will be Unity.
They eventually come to understand that the majesty of that Beloved is like the sun that can be seen reflected in a mirror. Yet, whoever looks into that mirror will also behold his or her own image. Here is the verse describing their puzzlement:
The meaning of these mysteries that confound
Their puzzled ignorance — how is it true
That ‘we’ is not distinguished here from ‘you’?
And silently their shining Lord replies:
‘I am a mirror set before your eyes,
And all who come before my splendour see
Themselves, their own unique reality;
You came as thirty birds and therefore saw
These selfsame thirty birds, not less nor more;
If you had come as forty, fifty – here
An answering forty, fifty, would appear;
Though you have struggled, wandered, travelled far,
It is yourselves you see and what you are.’
Jalal ud-Din Rumi in the 13th century and Hafez in the 14th were later poets in Iran who were indebted to Attar’s work. Rumi, who is far better known in the West (though not so in Iran) said this about Attar:
While I am only at the bend of the first alley.
Catherine said that as she was interested in Sufism she had heard of the poet. Priya said she loved Joe’s choice of reading from an epic work, as she too had chosen to read from what has been called “the greatest epic poem in English” — Paradise Lost by Milton. The poem reminded her of Aristophanes’ comic play, Birds.
Catherine Stoll-Simon was our guest of the evening. She has visited Fort Kochi several times and has been in residence with the Kashi Art Gallery for two months as an artist, preparing an exhibition. The exhibition has installations of dresses collectively called, Dressed With The Sacred, that opens at Kashi Art Cafe on March 2, 2018 and runs for a month. One among them, called Christ in New York depicts an imaginative recreation of the cloak worn by Christ against a backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.
in four. But always throughout my
mysteries in life. That shoes
see is a man's, old, worn, the sole
my awe and my sad pity.
One sad shoe that someone has probably flung
out of a car or truck. Why only one?
life, my travels, I see it like
a memorandum. Something I have
forgotten to remember,
do not always go in pairs, any more
than we do. That one fits;
the other, not. That children can
thoughtlessly and in a merry fashion
chuck out someone's shoe, split up
parted from the upper.
Then why did the owner keep the other,
keep it to himself? Was he
afraid (as I so often am with
inanimate objects) to hurt its feelings?
That one shoe in the road invokes
I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.
In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.
That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though it’s an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.
What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?
It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I’ve devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.
There was a time when only wise books were read,
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.
And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity,
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.
What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.
In Rome on the Campo dei Fiori
baskets of olives and lemons,
cobbles spattered with wine
and the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
with rose-pink fish;
armfuls of dark grapes
heaped on peach-down.
On this same square
they burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died
the taverns were full again,
baskets of olives and lemons
again on the vendors' shoulders.
I thought of the Campo dei Fiori
in Warsaw by the sky-carousel
one clear spring evening
to the strains of a carnival tune.
The bright melody drowned
the salvos from the ghetto wall,
and couples were flying
high in the cloudless sky.
At times wind from the burning
would drift dark kites along
and riders on the carousel
caught petals in midair.
That same hot wind
blew open the skirts of the girls
and the crowds were laughing
on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.
Someone will read as moral
that the people of Rome or Warsaw
haggle, laugh, make love
as they pass by the martyrs' pyres.
Someone else will read
of the passing of things human,
of the oblivion
born before the flames have died.
But that day I thought only
of the loneliness of the dying,
of how, when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on.
Already they were back at their wine
or peddled their white starfish,
baskets of olives and lemons
they had shouldered to the fair,
and he already distanced
as if centuries had passed
while they paused just a moment
for his flying in the fire.
Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the world,
our tongue becomes for them
the language of an ancient planet.
Until, when all is legend
and many years have passed,
on a new Campo dei Fiori
rage will kindle at a poet's word.