Born in 1119, Attar lived in infamously chaotic times when petty warlords never relented, and famine and disease were the order of the day. He was killed in 1221 during the utter destruction of his hometown of Rey at the hands of invading Mongol hoards.
Despite outward circumstances, the value of Attar's influence as a beacon of light during these times cannot be overestimated. He always seems to be focused on his belief in basic human goodness. Attar insisted that the individual should concentrate on refining his or her sensitivities in order to escape ignorance and become worthy of being called a "human being.”
Many generations since Attar have taken refuge in his writings to strengthen their faith to choose what cannot be seen, over all that can. His writings also include stories about the lives of mystics who lived before and around his time, and in this sense he provides one of the few sources about their biographies, though his is popular rather than academic information.
Attar is mostly known in the West for his Biographies of the Saints, and for Conference of the Birds; but he has also produced a number of other masterpieces well-known among lay persons and Sufi practitioners in Iran, and in cultures influenced by the Persian language. Sweet Sorrows is the first compilation of Attar's lesser-known works in English. The translator, Vraje Abramian, has selected 350 short verses that cover a wide range of Attar's poetic moods-from somewhat satirical and humorous to tender and heartbreaking. Background information on Attar, as well as an essay on the translator's task make this a fascinating and authoritative book. An Appendix contains a large selection of one of Attar's classics, Moseebat-nameh (The Book of Travails).
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About the Author
Vraje Abramian, born in Iran, grew up in a family of mixed languages and cultures: Armenian, Turkish and Persian. He began English studies at the age of 11 and became an English teacher at the age of 19. He studied applied linguistics at UCLA and is a certified instructor in English as a Second Language. Mr. Abramian is a writer specializing in the Persian poets of Sufism. He has traveled and lived in both Asia and Africa, and currently teaches at a private language school in Los Angeles. He has practiced meditation for 30 years, and was initiated into the Sant Mat tradition 24 years ago.
Read an Excerpt
In this collection, 350 of Sheikh Attar's works from various sources were selected. These pieces are numbered in the sequence they appear in the collection; source, page and line numbers are given in the endnotes.
Attar's poetry reveals his personal witness to the sanctity and oneness of all life, and to his unflinching faith in the human's potential and his/her ultimate worth. He never tires of pointing out to the individual that in the midst of the uncertainty and the baffling apparent chaos of (material) existence, the only refuge and happiness is to seek our Essence, the Ultimate Treasure in us, which is independent of time and space and never succumbs to the degeneration and degradation matter, by nature, is heir to.
What could be more relevant and more appropriate to our times, or any time for that matter, than the idea that in this brief journey on the fleeting river of time one may indeed stand a chance to become conscious of, and perhaps even find within himself/herself, That which is not subject to time?
When the young Jalaleddin Rumi's family was leaving Balkh ahead of the Mongol onslaught, his father Bahaoddin made a point of visiting every mystic on the way, including Attar, and asking for blessings. It is said that Attar told him that his boy would one day become the guiding light of his time and gave Jalaleddin a copy of Asrar-nameh (The Book of Mysteries), which in due course was to become his favorite book.
Rumi uses more than a few pieces of Attar's works as the basis of some of his poems in Divan-e Shams-e Tabriz, and whenever Attar is mentioned he is given reverence reserved for those with the highest spiritual attainment.
Selected Poems of Attar
2. Glory is You of whom no particle is empty though no trace of You can be found.
3. In that ocean where all creation is but a drop what could this existence of ours mean?
If you leave this self behind for a moment in your forehead you will hear, "You are Mine.”
Revealed here are the psalms in Persian,
but to understand them one needs the seal of the Sovereign.
Lord, let Attar be erased from the scene,
and let these be Your and not his lines.
4. If both worlds and all in them disappear worry not but do take a breath in "Huzur,” in God's Presence,
for what you will mourn for an eternity to come will be those breaths you failed to take in Presence.