The Conference of the Birds, Paperback
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Composed in the twelfth century in north-eastern Iran, Attar's great mystical poem is among the most significant of all works of Persian literature.

A marvellous, allegorical rendering of the Islamic doctrine of Sufism an esoteric system concerned with the search for truth through God it describes the consequences of the conference of the birds of the world when they meet to begin the search for their ideal king, the Simorgh bird.

On hearing that to find him they must undertake an arduous journey, the birds soon express their reservations to their leader, the hoopoe.

With eloquence and insight, however, the hoopoe calms their fears, using a series of riddling parables to provide guidance in the search for spiritual truth.

By turns witty and profound, The Conference of the Birds transforms deep belief into magnificent poetry.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Non-Western philosophy
  • ISBN: 9780140444346



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

The writings of the Sufis are, without a doubt, some of the most beautiful and challenging spiritual works in existence. Rumi's works are currently undergoing something of a renaissance in the Western world but the name of Farid Ud-Din Attar is not as well known. This is unfortunate, since The Conference of the Birds provides, in my opinion, a much better insight into Sufi philosophy than the bits and pieces of Rumi floating about the New Age universe.Attar's beautiful descriptions, exquisite metaphors and delightful parables describe the stages on the soul's journey to union with God. An extended metaphor for the soul, the birds gather and travel through various valleys to reach the Simorgh - a state of ecstatic oneness with deity. The Hoopoe acts as the guide and provides answers to the bird's questions and doubts about the journey - usually with short illustrative tales. These tales are each tiny drops of gold, the longest being only a few hundred lines. The overarching theme is the denial of the self to gain ultimate bliss. This is no intellectual exercise and much of the advice given is shocking and revolutionary. In the extended tale of Sheik Sam'an, the Sheik leaves his faith and becomes a Christian for the love of a woman who ultimately spurns him. His apostasy and depravity astound his followers who swiftly abandon him. A Sufi teacher chastises them for their lack of faith and eventually they return to his side. Sam'an then reconverts and his love is converted too. The message would seem to be that to find God it may be necessary to abandon conventional notions of behaviour and faith and plunge forward with wild abandon, losing the self. Some of the stories may shock our sensibilities, and no doubt had the same effect on Attar's medieval audiences. A kind of counter-culture attitude is displayed in the book, with tales of romantic love between men and other "un-Islamic" behaviours challenging accepted norms.As to the book itself, the translation is done in "heroic couplets" which according to the introduction, best suits the style of the arabic original. It at first seems a little stilted but soon lends a beauty of its own to the work. A fairly substantial introduction helps put the book in context and describes what is known of Attar's life and times. A biographical index is included which provides details on the many characters - often historical - who people the pages of the poem. This book is a beautiful little gem, filled with a lot of wisdom. It is definitely worth the read for members of any faith, even those who aren't practicing Sufis.

Review by

This remarkedly long poem was composed in Iran around 1150 AD. It is a metaphor for the challenges the soul faces into seeking unity with God. The birds set out on a quest to meet their king, the Simorgh bird. I found the poem rambling with too many parables from history and culture of the day. It certainly didn't have the dramatic focus of Homer.