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Revel in the beauty of medieval Persian poetry and Sufi thought
on March 9, 2015
Ask a well-educated Iranian for advice on reading the Persian classics and high on his/her list will likely be "The Conference of the Birds," a medieval poetic allegory written by Farid ud-Din Attar. Attar began his professional life as a well-educated pharmacist, and, after some years of listening to the cares and concerns of his patients, devoted himself instead to travel and the study of philosophy. These travels, which extended throughout the Middle East, Turkistan, and India, left him most profoundly impressed by the Sufi approach to Islam and culminated in the writing of "The Conference of the Birds." This lengthy verse poem tells of the search of the world's birds for a magical leader, symbolizing the quest of the human soul for unity with the Supreme Being.
Precisely who among the Sufi philosophers and authors of his age most influenced Attar is not well documented, but there is no doubt of the the impact he in turn would have on the work of Rumi and Hafez, the Sufi poets today best known in the West. To further round out your appreciation of the impact that Attar's classic has had over the centuries, treat yourself to the recently published "The Canticle of the Birds: Illustrated Through Persian and Eastern Islamic Art." In this expensive but exquisitely illustrated volume, Dr. Michael Barry of Princeton University has brought to bear his deep knowledge of Persian, Central Asian, and Indian art and thought.