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Mystical Roots and Sufi Poetry

The Conference of the Birds

Mystical Roots:


The Conference of the Birds is a spiritual poem, a morality story from the Sufi faith. The Sufi religion believes that God is not external or separate from the universe, but is all of the universe together. This is considered to be the mystical spiritual part of Islam. Unlike mainstream Islam, however, Sufis believe that one should strive to become close with God and that this is possible in life, not just in Paradise after death.


The main obstacle in achieving this closeness with God is one’s ego. Sufis believe that God is present in every thought and feeling, but one’s ego and feelings such as depression, self-pity, anger, and boredom can promote a mistaken impression that one is separate from God, and a prisoner in one’s own mind. Therefore, Sufism emphasizes overcoming ego to recognize one’s closeness with God.


Sufi Poetry:

The experience of Sufism inspires encounters with God, love, and the deepest aspects of human consciousness, leading to some of the most profound and beautiful poetry ever written. Famous Sufi poets include Rumi, Attar, Hafiz, Hallaj, Ibn Al-Farid, and Yunus Emre. A common theme in Sufi poetry was the exploration of the soul, usually represented by a bird, as it found its wings in faith.


Farid ud-Din Attar, author of The Conference of the Birds, inspired a young man who would later become the most famous Sufi poet of all time. Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī is better known simply as Rumi. The works of Rumi were widely appreciated in the Middle East and South Asia and have been translated into many languages. In 2007, the BBC stated that Rumi was the most popular poet in America.


Rumi’s greatest life’s work, is the Matnaviye Ma’navi, which translates to “Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning.” Rumi integrates many stories and parables from the Qur’an into this work, demonstrating the influence of Attar’s technique of telling smaller stories within the larger one.
Hafiz of Shiraz learned all of the works of Attar and Rumi, as well as the Qur’an, by heart. In fact, “Hafez” was his pen name and is the honorable title for someone who has learned the Qur’an by heart.


The majority of Hafiz’s work incorporates the style of ghazals, a lyric poem consisting of 6 to 15 rhyming couplets and a refrain with each line sharing the same meter. Many of Hafiz’s poems are addressed to a woman he calls “Shak-i-Nabat,” which means “Branch of Sugarcane.” Entranced by her beauty, Hafiz is said to have held a mystic vigil to realize this love that he felt was unrequited. During this vigil he encountered an angel of extraordinary beauty and this transformed his quest into one for spiritual love and beauty.


Hafiz’s most famous work is a collection of his poems published posthumously called Divan; editions vary in including 573 to 994 poems. 

Harvey Bagot. Letter to his father, Walter Bagot, and poem. Manuscript, 17 May 1609

An excerpt from ...

Little is known by any one but the spiritual man,

Who has in his heart a touchstone of vital truth.

The others, hovering between two opinions,

Fly towards their nest on a single wing.

Knowledge has two wings, opinion only one wing;

Opinion is weak and lopsided in its flight.

The bird having but one wing quickly drops down,

And again flies on two steps or more.

This bird of opinion goes on rising and falling

On one wing, in hope to reach his nest.

When he escapes from opinion and knowledge is seen,

This bird gains two wings and spreads both of them.

Afterwards he "goes upright on a straight path,

Not grovelling on his face or creeping."

He flies up on two wings even as the angel Gabriel,

Free of opinion, of duplicity, and of vain talk.

Masnavi, by Rumi

Book 3 Story 7

Translated and Abridged by E.H. Whinfield [1898]

The Bird of Gardens

THE bird of gardens sang unto the rose,
New blown in the clear dawn: “Bow down thy head!
As fair as thou within this garden close,
Many have bloomed and died.” She laughed and said
“That I am born to fade grieves not my heart
But never was it a true lover’s part
To vex with bitter words his love’s repose.”
The tavern step shall be thy hostelry,
For Love’s diviner breath comes but to those
That suppliant on the dusty threshold lie.
And thou, if thou would’st drink the wine that flows
From Life’s bejewelled goblet, ruby red,
Upon thine eyelashes thine eyes shall thread
A thousand tears for this temerity.
Last night when Irem’s magic garden slept,
Stirring the hyacinth’s purple tresses curled,
The wind of morning through the alleys stept.
“Where is thy cup, the mirror of the world?
Ah, where is Love, thou Throne of Djem?” I cried.
The breezes knew not; but “Alas,” they sighed,
“That happiness should sleep so long!” and wept.
Not on the lips of men Love’s secret lies,
Remote and unrevealed his dwelling-place.
Oh Saki, come! the idle laughter dies
When thou the feast with heavenly wine dost grace.
Patience and wisdom, Hafiz, in a sea
Of thine own tears are drowned; thy misery
They could not still nor hide from curious eyes.


Poems from the Divan of Hafiz
by Getrude Lowthian Bell [1897]

*excerpts from both poems found at sacred-texts.com

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