The Conference of the Birds


The Conference of the Birds, written in verse by the Persian poet,  Fariduddin Attar in the 12th century.   It tells a story of the birds of the world gathering together to take on a journey to meet Simorgh, their leader. They all set out to pass through seven harsh and difficult valleys of spirituality and enlightenment. The expedition was led by a wise bird called hoopoe.

Attar writes this allegorical narrative based on the Sufi’s doctrine which is distinguished by its provocative and mystical divinity of love. Attar in The Conference of the Birds elaborates, through many anecdotes, the seven spiritual stages, valleys, and he further explores the nature of mystical conditions the aspirants would experience in order to reach their goal, the Divine.

However, not every bird is capable or willing to embark upon venturing the task of crossing the arduous valleys of transformation and finishing the intricate and complicated process of spiritual evolution. Many of them die or abandon their search. Only thirty birds reach their destination on the top of Mount Qaf, where they believe Simorgh resides. However, they cannot find their imaginary master. The birds look at each other and realise that they themselves are Simorgh. In the Farsi language, the word si means thirty, and the word morgh means birds; therefore, Si morgh was nothing but the thirty birds who reached their destination; they are the leader and the leader is themselves.

Marsha has cited poems from The Conference of the Birds in her book The Saturday Night School of Beauty. The following is a typical poetry night during which a poem by Attar is recited:

They sat in a circle, drinking tea. Haji Khanoum brought out the book of Divan Attar, and asked Houshang to recite a poem. Houshang knew just what to recite.


 Butterflies gathered one night,

to learn the truth about the candle light.

And they decided one of them should go,

to gather news of the beloved glow.

One butterfly from a distance he flew,

through the palace window he saw a candle glow,

and went no nearer: back again he flew,

to tell the others what he thought he knew.

The butterflies’ mentor dismissed his claim,

saying that he knows nothing of the flame.

A butterfly more eager than the one before,

set out and passed beyond the palace door.

He flew through the air around the fire,

a trembling blur of timorous desire,

He flew back to say how far he had been,

and tell the story of what he had seen.

The mentor said: You have no more signs,

than the one before, of how the candle shines.


Haji Khanoum gave a low chuckle and nodded. Houshang cleared his throat and pushed his glasses back along the bridge of his nose.


Another butterfly embarked on a dancing flight,

sat on the blazing fire of candle light.

He immersed in the fire in his frenzied trance

both self and fire were mingled by his dance

The flame engulfed him from head to toe,

in a translucent fiery red, his body glowed.

When the mentor saw the sudden blaze,

his form changed within the glowing rays.

He said: That butterfly knows truth we seek,

that hidden truth of which we cannot speak.


Houshang closed his eyes, his hands raised with his palms open.

“Yes, to acquire true knowledge, we need to learn how to become like the third butterfly: fearless,” said the Capitan.

“Passionate,” Zadi followed.

“Drunk,” Haji Khanoum said quickly.

The lamps flickered and silence prevailed.