Valley of Knowledge

 

Enter the Valley of Knowledge,

with its boundless myriad roads

unfurling in every direction.

 

Here, no path resembles the next.

Here, the traveler of the body is different

from the traveler of the soul.

Here, both body and soul 

progress, regress,

decline and rise, 

each according to its own worth.

 

In this Abrahamic place, 

how can a sickly spider

keep up with an elephant’s pace?

Your journey is greased by 

your own measure and maturity.

 

A fly can flap its wings all it wants,

but how can it keep up with the wind? 

We each travel our own path;

no two birds journey the same.

 

Here, knowledge splits 

into unnumbered insights.

One person finds it in a church or a mosque, 

another finds it in a shrine for idols.

 

When the sun of knowledge shimmers 

in the Beloved’s exalted sky, 

each traveler is given sight 

according to his own measure and share; 

each traveler regains her true rank.

 

The secret of every atom will be unveiled, 

and this ash-pit world will sprout into a rose garden.

Then you will see past the shell

into the kernel of everything.

You will see yourself as nothing,

become blind to everything 

except the Friend.

 

A hundred thousand mysteries 

will be unmasked, and for every hundred 

thousand who lose their way, only one will arrive.

It takes a stout soul of the Way

to dive headlong into that bottomless sea.

 

If mysteries excite you, 

then each moment will bloom 

a new yearning in your soul.

Here, unending thirst prevails.

Here, a hundred thousand sacrifices are necessary.

 

If you reach that Great Throne, 

don’t boast,

rather ask: Is there more?

Drown yourself in that ocean of knowledge,

or else rub the road’s dust on your head.

 

If you do not come here a worshipper, 

go away and weep, sleepy one.

If you are not joyful in your union with your Beloved,

keep on mourning your separation.

 

If you do not see the Beloved’s face,

get up! What are you waiting for? 

Go look for it!

Shame on you,

if you don’t know the taste of desire.

Don’t drift like an idle, aimless ass.

 

—Translated from the Persian by Sholeh Wolpé

 

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Sholeh Wolpé is an Iranian-American poet and writer. Her nine books include Keeping Time with Blue Hyacinths (University of Arkansas Press, 2013) and Rooftops of Tehran (Red Hen Press, 2008), and, as translator, Sin: Selected Poems of Forugh Farrokhzad (University of Arkansas Press, 2010). She is the recipient of PEN/Heim Grant, the Midwest Book Award, and the Lois Roth Persian Translation Prize, among others.

Attar (CE 1145–1221) was born in Nishapur, a city in the northeast region of Iran. Considered by Rumi to be “the master” of Sufi mystic poetry, Attar is best known for his epic poem The Conference of the Birds, an allegorical tale about the soul’s search for meaning. “Valley of Knowledge”—translated in this issue by Sholeh Wolpé—is one of the seven valleys the birds must pass in order to reach the court of their king, Simurgh. Wolpé’s full translation of The Conference of the Birds is forthcoming from W. W. Norton & Co in March 2017.