Mantiqu’t-Tair is one of the masterpieces of Persian literature of which a complete and annotated translation into English is here presented for the first time as The Speech of the Birds. The text revolves around the decision of the birds of the world to seek out a king. Their debilitating doubts and fears, the knowing counsel of their leader Hoopoe, and their choice of the Simurgh as a king, is in reality an allegory of the spiritual path of Sufism with its demands, its hazards and its infinite rewards. The poem contains many admonitory anecdotes and exemplary stories, including numerous references to some of the early Muslim mystics such as Rabi’a al-’Adawiyya, Abu Sa’id ibn Abi’l-Khair, Mansur al-Hallaj and Shibli, among others.
In The Speech of the Birds, Peter Avery has not only given us a precise and moving translation, but also ample annotation providing much information to fill in what Attar would have expected his readers to know. The result is a fascinating insight into a remarkable aspect of Islam: the world of ecstatic love of the Persian mystics. The Speech of the Birds will be of interest to everyone who values great literature, as well as to all students of Persian and Sufism.
Brought up in a Sufi ambiance, the author of this work, Faridu’d-Din Attar (1145-1221), was an apothecary who lived near Nishapur. Attar, whom legend describes as having taken to the Sufi path in earnest after he witnessed a dervish surrender his soul outside his shop, went on to become one of the most famous Sufi poets in history, best known for his classical work the Mantiqu’t-Tair.
Peter Avery was Persian lecturer at Cambridge from 1958 until 1990.
‘Avery’s The Speech of the Birds is the first complete translation in prose of Attar’s Mantiqu’t-Tair. More important, Avery’s copious notes … are invaluable – a real mini-encyclopaedia of mysticism in general and of Sufism in particular, which enhances the understanding and the pleasure of poetry.’
Times Higher Education Supplement