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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Apologues Freely Translated from the ‘Mantik-ut-Tair,’ or ‘The Bird Parliament,’ of Faríd-uddín Attar

By Edward Fitzgerald (1809–1883)

  • [Mohammed Ibn Ibrahim Faríd u’d Dín (Faríd-uddín)—called “Attar,” the Druggist or Perfumer—was born at Kerken, a village of Khorassan near Naishapur, in the year 1216, and died at the age of one hundred and fifteen in the city of Shad’ach, where he lived for over eighty-five years. His industry was equal to his longevity: he was an indefatigable collector of biographical details, which he employed in his wonderful series of lives of the Moslem Saints—the Teskeret-al-Oulia (or ‘Ewha’). He wrote in prose many ascetical and mystical works. Aside from his rhymed couplets he composed over forty thousand distichs, including twelve thousand four-line strophes. His best-known work is the ‘Mantik-ut-Tair’ (Conversations of the Birds, or Bird-Parliament), an enormously long work which Edward Fitzgerald condensed into a few pages; particularly selecting the Apologues or little stories with obvious morals, such as are cited below.]

  • The Fortune of the Great

    ONE day Shah Mahmúd, riding with the Wind

    A-hunting, left his Retinue behind,

    And coming to a River, whose swift Course

    Doubled back Game and Dog, and Man and Horse,

    Beheld upon the Shore a little Lad

    A-fishing, very poor, and Tatter-clad

    He was, and weeping as his Heart would break.

    So the Great Sultan, for good-humour’s sake,

    Pull’d in his Horse a moment, and drew nigh,

    And after making his Salám, ask’d why

    He wept—weeping, the Sultan said, so sore

    As he had never seen one weep before.

    The Boy look’d up, and “O Amír,” he said,

    “Sev’n of us are at home, and Father dead,

    And Mother left with scarce a Bit of Bread:

    And now since Sunrise have I fish’d—and see!

    Caught nothing for our Supper—Woe is Me!”

    The Sultan lighted from his Horse. “Behold,”

    Said he, “Good Fortune will not be controll’d:

    And, since To-day yours seems to turn from you,

    Suppose we try for once what mine will do,

    And we will share alike in all I win.”

    So the Shah took, and flung his Fortune in,

    The Net; which, cast by the Great Mahmúd’s Hand,

    A hundred glittering Fishes brought to Land.

    The Lad look’d up in Wonder—Mahmúd smiled

    And vaulted into Saddle. But the Child

    Ran after—“Nay, Amír, but half the Haul

    Is yours by Bargain”—“Nay, To-day take all,”

    The Sultan cried, and shook his Bridle free—

    “But mind—To-morrow All belongs to Me—”

    And so rode off. Next morning at Divan

    The Sultan’s Mind upon his Bargain ran,

    And being somewhat in a mind for sport

    Sent for the Lad: who, carried up to Court,

    And marching into Royalty’s full Blaze

    With such a Catch of Fish as yesterday’s,

    The Sultan call’d and set him by his side,

    And asking him, “What Luck?” The Boy replied,

    “This is the Luck that follows every Cast,

    Since o’er my Net the Sultan’s Shadow pass’d.”

    The Miser

    A FELLOW all his life lived hoarding Gold,

    And, dying, hoarded left it. And behold,

    One Night his Son saw peering through the House

    A Man, with yet the semblance of a Mouse,

    Watching a crevice in the Wall—and cried—

    “My Father?”—“Yes,” the Musulman replied,

    “Thy Father!”—“But why watching thus?”—“For fear

    Lest any smell my Treasure buried here.”—

    “But wherefore, Sir, so metamousified?”—

    “Because, my Son, such is the true outside

    Of the inner Soul by which I lived and died.”

    The Dread

    A CERTAIN Shah there was in Days foregone

    Who had a lovely Slave he doated on,

    And cherish’d as the Apple of his Eye,

    Clad gloriously, fed sumptuously, set high,

    And never was at Ease were He not by,

    Who yet, for all this Sunshine, Day by Day

    Was seen to wither like a Flower away.

    Which, when observing, one without the Veil

    Of Favour ask’d the Favourite—“Why so pale

    And sad?” Thus sadly answer’d the poor Thing—

    “No Sun that rises sets until the King,

    Whose Archery is famous among Men,

    Aims at an Apple on my Head; and when

    The stricken Apple splits, and those who stand

    Around cry ‘Lo! the Shah’s unerring Hand!’

    Then He too laughing asks me ‘Why so pale

    And sorrow-some? as could the Sultan fail,

    Who such a master of the Bow confest,

    And aiming by the Head that he loves best.’”

    The Proof

    A SHAH returning to his Capital,

    His subjects drest it forth in Festival,

    Thronging with Acclamation Square and Street,

    And kneeling flung before his Horse’s feet

    Jewel and Gold. All which with scarce an Eye

    The Sultan superciliously rode by:

    Till coming to the public Prison, They

    Who dwelt within those grisly Walls, by way

    Of Welcome, having neither Pearl nor Gold,

    Over the wall chopt Head and Carcase roll’d,

    Some almost parcht to Mummy with the Sun,

    Some wet with Execution that day done.

    At which grim Compliment at last the Shah

    Drew Bridle: and amid a wild Hurrah

    Of savage Recognition, smiling threw

    Silver and Gold among the wretched Crew,

    And so rode forward. Whereat of his Train

    One wondering that, while others sued in vain

    With costly gifts, which carelessly he passed,

    But smiled at ghastly Welcome like the last;

    The Shah made answer—“All that Pearl and Gold

    Of ostentatious Welcome only told:

    A little with great Clamour from the Store

    Of Hypocrites who kept at home much more.

    But when those sever’d Heads and Trunks I saw—

    Save by strict Execution of my Law

    They had not parted company; not one

    But told my Will not talk’d about, but done.”

    Compulsory Repentance

    JUST as another Holy Spirit fled,

    The Skies above him burst into a Bed

    Of Angels looking down and singing clear,

    “Nightingale! Nightingale! thy Rose is here!”

    And yet, the Door wide open to that Bliss,

    As some hot Lover slights a scanty Kiss,

    The Saint cried “All I sigh’d for come to this?

    I who life-long have struggled, Lord, to be

    Not of thy Angels one, but one with Thee!”

    Others were sure that all he said was true:

    They were extremely wicked, that they knew:

    And much they long’d to go at once—but some,

    They said, so unexpectedly had come

    Leaving their Nests half-built—in bad Repair—

    With Children in—Themselves about to pair—

    “Might he not choose a better Season—nay,

    Better perhaps a Year or Two’s Delay,

    Till all was settled, and themselves more stout

    And strong to carry their Repentance out—

    And then”—

    “And then, the same or like Excuse,

    With harden’d Heart and Resolution loose

    With dallying: and old Age itself engaged

    Still to shirk that which shirking we have aged;

    And so with Self-delusion, till, too late,

    Death upon all Repentance shuts the Gate;

    Or some fierce blow compels the Way to choose,

    And forced Repentance half its Virtue lose.”

    As of an aged Indian King they tell

    Who, when his Empire with his Army fell

    Under young Mahmúd’s Sword of Wrath, was sent

    At sunset to the Conqueror in his Tent;

    But, ere the old King’s silver head could reach

    The Ground, was lifted up—with kindly Speech,

    And with so holy Mercy re-assured,

    That, after due Persuasion, he abjured

    His Idols, sate upon Mahmúd’s Divan,

    And took the Name and Faith of Musulman.

    But when the Night fell, in his Tent alone

    The poor old King was heard to weep and groan

    And smite his Bosom; which when Mahmúd knew,

    He went to him and said “Lo, if Thou rue

    Thy lost Dominion, Thou shalt wear the Ring

    Of thrice as large a Realm.” But the dark King

    Still wept, and Ashes on his Forehead threw,

    And cried, “Not for my Kingdom lost I rue;

    But thinking how at the Last Day, will stand

    The Prophet with The Volume in his Hand,

    And ask of me ‘How was’t that, in thy Day

    Of Glory, Thou didst turn from Me and slay

    My People; but soon as thy Infidel

    Before my True Believers’ Army fell

    Like Corn before the Reaper—thou didst own

    His Sword who scoutedst Me?’ Of seed so sown

    What profitable Harvest should be grown?”

    Clogs to the Soul

    “BEHOLD, dropt through the Gate of Mortal Birth,

    The Knightly Soul alights from Heav’n on Earth;

    Begins his Race, but scarce the Saddle feels,

    When a foul Imp up from the distance steals,

    And, double as he will, about his Heels

    Closer and ever closer circling creeps,

    Then, half-invited, on the Saddle leaps,

    Clings round the Rider, and, once there, in vain

    The strongest strives to thrust him off again.

    In Childhood just peeps up the Blade of Ill,

    That youth to Lust rears, Fury, and Self-will:

    And, as Man cools to sensual Desire,

    Ambition catches with as fierce a Fire;

    Until Old Age sends him with one last Lust

    Of Gold, to keep it where he found—in Dust.

    Life at both Ends so feeble and constrain’d,

    How should that Imp of Sin be slain or chain’d?…

    “For should the Greyhound whom a Sultan fed,

    And by a jewell’d String a-hunting led,

    Turn by the Way to gnaw some nasty Thing

    And snarl at Him who twitch’d the silken String,

    Would not his Lord soon weary of Dispute,

    And turn adrift the incorrigible Brute?

    “Nay, would one follow, and without a Chain,

    The only Master truly worth the Pain,

    One must beware lest, growing over-fond

    Of even Life’s more consecrated Bond,

    We clog our Footsteps to the World beyond.”


    ONE day the Prophet on a River Bank,

    Dipping his Lips into the Channel, drank

    A Draught as sweet as Honey. Then there came

    One who an earthen Pitcher from the same

    Drew up, and drank: and after some short stay

    Under the Shadow, rose and went his Way,

    Leaving his earthen Bowl. In which, anew

    Thirsting, the Prophet from the River drew,

    And drank from: but the Water that came up

    Sweet from the Stream, drank bitter from the Cup.

    At which the Prophet in a still Surprise

    For Answer turning up to Heav’n his Eyes,

    The Vessel’s Earthen Lips with Answer ran—

    “The Clay that I am made of once was Man,

    Who dying, and resolved into the same

    Obliterated Earth from which he came

    Was for the Potter dug, and chased in turn

    Through long Vicissitude of Bowl and Urn:

    But howsoever moulded, still the Pain

    Of that first mortal Anguish would retain,

    And cast, and re-cast, for a Thousand years

    Would turn the sweetest Water into Tears.”

    The Welcome

    ONE night Shah Mahmúd, who had been of late

    Somewhat distempered with Affairs of State,

    Stroll’d through the Streets disguised, as wont to do—

    And coming to the Baths, there on the Flue

    Saw the poor Fellow who the Furnace fed

    Sitting beside his Water-jug and Bread.

    Mahmúd stept in—sat down—unask’d took up

    And tasted of the untasted Loaf and Cup,

    Saying within himself, “Grudge but a bit,

    And, by the Lord, your Head shall pay for it!”

    So having rested, warm’d and satisfied

    Himself without a Word on either side,

    At last the wayward Sultan rose to go.

    And then at last his Host broke silence—“So?—

    Art satisfied? Well, Brother, any Day

    Or Night, remember, when you come this Way

    And want a bit of Provender—why, you

    Are welcome, and if not—why, welcome too.”—

    The Sultan was so tickled with the whim

    Of this quaint Entertainment and of him

    Who offer’d it, that many a Night again

    Stoker and Shah forgather’d in that vein—

    Till, the poor Fellow having stood the Test

    Of true Good-fellowship, Mahmúd confess’d

    One Night the Sultan that had been his Guest:

    And in requital of the scanty Dole

    The Poor Man offer’d with so large a soul,

    Bid him ask any Largess that he would—

    A Throne—if he would have it, so he should.

    The Poor Man kiss’d the Dust, and “All,” said he,

    “I ask is what and where I am to be;

    If but the Shah from time to time will come

    As now, and see me in the lowly Home

    His presence makes a Palace, and my own

    Poor Flue more royal than another’s Throne.”