From Avicenna’s Recital of the Bird

Know, O Brothers of Truth, that a party of hunters went into the desert. They spread their nets, set out their lures, and hid in the thickets. For my part, I was one of the troop of birds. When the hunters saw us, they tried to attract us by whistling so delightfully that they put us in doubt. We looked; we saw an agreeable and pleasant place; we knew that our companions were beside us. We felt no uneasiness, and no suspicion kept us from setting out. So we hastened to the place, and suddenly we fell into the snares. The meshes closed on our necks, the strings entangled our wings, the cords hobbled our feet. Every movement that we tried to make only tightened our bonds the more and made our situation more desperate.

Finally, we gave ourselves up for lost; each of us thought only of his own pain and no longer considered that of his brother. We tried only to discover a ruse to free ourselves. And in the end we forgot what a fall our condition had undergone. In the end we ceased to be conscious of our bonds and of the narrowness of our cage, and there sank to rest. But one day it happened that I was looking out through the meshes of the nets. I saw a company of birds who had freed their heads and wings from the cage and were ready to fly away. Lengths of cord could still be seen tied to their feet, neither too tight to prevent them from flying nor loose enough to allow them a serene and untroubled life.

Seeing them, I remembered my earlier state, of which I had lost all consciousness, and what had long ago been my familiar fellowship made me feel the wretchedness of my present state. Would that I might die, I thought, from the excess of my grief, would that at the mere sight of their departure my soul might noiselessly slip from its body! I called and cried to them from the depths of my cage: “Come! approach! teach me by what sleight to seek deliverance; sympathize with my suffering, for truly I am at the end of my strength.” But they remembered the ruses and the impostures of the hunters; my cries only frightened them, and they hastened from me.

Then I besought them in the name of the eternal brotherhood, of the stainless fellowship, of the unviolated pact, to trust my words and to banish doubt from their hearts. Then they came to me. When I questioned them concerning their state, they reminded me thus: “We were prisoners of the same suffering as thine; we too have known despair; we too have been made familiar with sorrow, anguish, and pain.” Then they applied their treatment to me. The cord fell from my neck; my wings were freed from their bonds; the door of the cage was opened to me. They said: “Profit by thy deliverance!”

But again I prayed to them: “Free me also from this hobble that still clings to my foot.” They answered: “Were it in our power, we should have begun by removing those that encumber our own feet. How should the sick cure the sick?”

I arose from the cage and flew away with them.

Henry Corbin
Avicenna and the Visionary Recital
(trans. Willard Trask)


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