19 March 2010

The Simurgh



The distant king of birds, the Simurgh, drops one of his splendid feathers somewhere in the middle of China; on learning of this, the other birds, tired of their present anarchy, decide to seek him. They know that the king's name means "thirty birds"; they know that his castle lies in the Kaf, the mountain or range of mountains that ring the earth. At the outset, some of the birds lose heart; the nightingale pleads his love for the rose; the parrot pleads his beauty, for which he lives caged; the partridge cannot do without his home in the hills, nor the heron without his marsh, nor the owl without his ruins. But finally, certain of them set out on the perilous venture; they cross seven valleys or seas, the next to last bearing the name Bewilderment, the last the name Annihilation. Many of the pilgrims desert; the journey takes its toll among the rest. Thirty, made pure by their sufferings, reach the great peak of the Simurgh. At last they behold him; they realize that they are the Simurgh, and that the Simurgh is each of them and all of them.
This excerpt is taken, verbatim, from Borges' The Book of Imaginary Beings.
A being that is not one being, but many beings at once, is among the most intriguing inventions in literature. Also the word Behemoth is plural: it is a Hebrew word that stands for "beasts". Nazg├╗l, the nine riders from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, are lost to humanity not because they slavishly serve Sauron, but because they are a single creature consisting of what used to be nine.
The posted photograph is one of startling formations of starlings: to follow the flocking birds in their artistic spree, begin here.

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