Heidi Trautmann

402 - Yunus Emre, a Turkish poet

Yunus Emre, a Turkish poet(1238 - 1320)

By Heidi Trautmann


Having interviewed most of the North Cypriot poets I usually asked them the same question among others: What were the poets you read when you were young. For Fikret Demirag whom I interviewed shortly before his death which had shocked all of us in Cyprus, those were with his words: “Mine were the innovative poets Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963); Konstantinos Cavaffy (1863 – 1933); Frederico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936); Sergei Jesenin (1895-1925; Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891); Giorgios Seferis (1900-1971), but I most admired Lorca.” In one of his books he recites a poem of Yunus Emre and I asked him what this poet meant to him. He answered: “Yunus Emre has influenced us Cypriot Turkish poets in a direct way; we felt he was one of us. His poetic approach and language appeals to us.  He has exercised immense influence on Turkish literature, up to the present time.  He is one of the first known Turkish poets to have composed works in the spoken Turkish of his own age and region.  His poems were sung and thus handed down orally.”


Here is what is generally known: Yunus Emre is considered by many to be one of the most important Turkish poets. Little can be said for certain of his life other than that he was a Sufi dervish of Anatolia. The love people have for his liberating poetry is reflected in the fact that many villages claim to be his birthplace, and many others claim to hold his tomb. He probably lived in the Karaman area.

His poetry expresses a deep personal mysticism and humanism and love for God.

He was a contemporary of Rumi, who lived in the same region. Rumi composed his collection of stories and songs for a well-educated urban circle of Sufis, writing primarily in the literary language of Persian. Yunus Emre, on the other hand, traveled and taught among the rural poor, singing his songs in the Turkish language of the common people.

A story is told of a meeting between the two great souls: Rumi asked Yunus Emre what he thought of his great work the Mathnawi. Yunus Emre said, "Excellent, excellent! But I would have done it differently." Surprised, Rumi asked how. Yunus replied, "I would have written, 'I came from the eternal, clothed myself in flesh, and took the name Yunus.'" That story perfectly illustrates Yunus Emre's simple, direct approach that has made him so beloved.

A single word can brighten the face

by Yunus Emre

A single word can brighten the face
of one who knows the value of words.
Ripened in silence, a single word
acquires a great energy for work.

War is cut short by a word,
and a word heals the wounds,
and there's a word that changes
poison into butter and honey.

Let a word mature inside yourself.
Withhold the unripened thought.
Come and understand the kind of word
that reduces money and riches to dust.

Know when to speak a word
and when not to speak at all.
A single word turns the universe of hell
into eight paradises.

Follow the Way. Don't be fooled
by what you already know. Be watchful.
Reflect before you speak.
A foolish mouth can brand your soul.

Yunus, say one last thing
about the power of words --
Only the word "I"
divides me from God.


English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan
Original Language Turkish


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