The Universal Tree and the Four Birds (al-Ittihad al-kawni) is one of Ibn ʿArabi's early works. A dazzling blend of poetry and rhymed prose, this short mystical treatise encompasses a number of themes that were of perennial concern to Ibn ʿArabi, in particular the question of union with the Divine.
Beginning with a series of poems that depict the existential fluctuation of the human heart, the narrator goes on to describe his meeting with his Essential Self in a ‘place’ outside space and time. He then finds himself in a garden with the Universal Tree, symbolising the Reality of Perfect Man, and four delightful birds: an Eagle, a Ringdove, a fabulous ‘Anqa’ (or Gryphon), and a Jet-black Crow. Each in turn regales the author with a tale of its origins and essential characteristics, but it is only in the end that their true natures are finally revealed.
The elegant translation is complemented by Angela Jaffray’s illuminating commentary on key elements in the text and extensive notes, and a foreword by Rafi Zabor. The Arabic text, critically edited from the best manuscripts by Denis Gril, is also included.
The Universal Tree and the Four Birds will also make a valued addition to the syllabus of reading-groups and college and university classes. And, though the treatise is short, it offers a sweeping and rich entry to Ibn 'Arabi's thought. It could serve as the main reading for a course on Ibn 'Arabi; for a mixed course of those who may or may not be familiar with Arabic; a seminar for those who can read Arabic; or a course for those who know no Arabic at all.