Poetry at Sangam



The Hoopoe Advises the Birds by Attar


Translated and narrated by Sholeh Wolpé

Whether you’re an ascetic or a libertine,
when you fall in love
your heart becomes the enemy of your self
and you’ll no longer care about yourself.

Therefore, let go of your ego;
it’s the road’s end anyway.
Ego is a dam that keeps you from the Path.

Give up your eyes so that you may see.
If you are told to abandon your faith
or commanded to give up your self,
who are you to refuse?
Renounce them both.

Naysayers say this is blasphemy.
Tell them: Love is above heresy and faith.

What does love have to do with belief or unbelief?
What do lovers have to do with life’s trappings?

A true lover strikes a match to the whole harvest.
If a hatchet is lifted over a lover’s head,
a lover of the Path will say: Do it.

Love insists on the heart’s bleeding pain.
Love demands a gnarled and arduous tale.

Wine-bearer, come pour heart-blood into the cup!
If you don’t have any, borrow some from love.
True love comes with passion that burns away veils.
Sometimes it ravages the veil; at other times it mends it.

An iota of love is better than all the worlds.
A morsel of lovers’ pain is better than the lovers themselves.

Love is the magnetic core that draws everything together,
but beware: There is no perfect love without pain.

Angels hold love but not the pain;
only mortals merit the pain of love.
If you become sure-footed in love, you’ll transcend
everything, even blasphemy and belief.

Love opens the door to poverty;
poverty will steer you to breach faith and belief.
When you liberate yourself from all you believe
and don’t believe,
that’s when your ego disappears.
Only then will you deserve this journey,
only then will you deserve its mysteries.

Staunch your fear and step forward.
Leave faith and blasphemy behind. Don’t worry.
Don’t be childish. Don’t hesitate.
Go on, be bold. Take the first step.
If a hundred tests rain down on you,
don’t panic; expect them on this hard journey.

(From The Conference of the Birds, by Attar, Translated by Sholeh Wolpé, W. W. Norton & Co, 2017)