Mehmed Fuad Köprülü
‘The most renowned poet to appear among the countless Turkish poets who flourished over the centuries.’
Yunus Emre is revered in Turkey as the father of Turkish literature and verses from his Divân (Collected Poems) are memorized by school children throughout the country. He has also been seen as one of the greatest exponents of a characteristically
Turkish form of Islam.
However, his Risâletü’n-Nushiyye (Book of Counsel) has never been translated into English and his Divân has still not been translated in its entirety. Turks are often surprised that Yunus is by no means as famous throughout the world as Jalal al-Din Rumi.
The present website, and the printed volumes that will accompany it, are therefore an attempt to introduce his legacy to a wider readership and to encourage the study of his work in its original language and from its earliest manuscripts.
The first volume of translations will be published next year along with detailed notes and introductions. In the meantime, regular instalments will appear online when they are completed.
Although few details are known about his life, Yunus Emre wrote during the late 13th and early 14th century, a time of dramatic social, political, and cultural change in Anatolia. Nomadic Turkish tribes had arrived in ever larger numbers after Alp Arslan defeated
an immense Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Although the Seljuk sultans of Rum depended upon nomadic warriors for military support, their way of life could not easily be accommodated within the state that the sultans were building on
the basis of Islamic law and Persian statecraft. In 1239, a rebellion led by Turkish tribal and spiritual leaders weakened the sultanate and made any effective resistance impossible when Mongol armies arrived in 1241. The sultanate not only became a tributary
state administered by a Mongol governor, it also split into a number of rival principalities or beyliks.
Yunus Emre was not the only sufi in the sultanate of Rum whose fame has endured for more than >seven centuries. Turkishs cholars in particular have observed that exponents of three very distinct traditions were teaching in Anatolia during the 13th century: Ibn al-Arabi wasborn in Andalucia, lived in Malatya from 1204 to 1214, and wrote in Arabic; Jalal al-Din Rumi, who was born near Balkh, had arrived in Konya with his father by 1229, and wrote in Persian; and Yunus Emre, who was born in Anatolia around 1240, wrote in Turkish. Despite their undoubted differences, they would be seenin later centuries as delivering essentially the same message about vahdet-ivücud (unity of being), even though none of them actually used the term.
According totradition, Yunus Emre was adisciple of Hacı Bektaş Veli, a dervish from Khurasan who died around 1270 andis revered as the founder of the Bektaşi order. In contrast to the Mevlevi or‘Whirling Dervishes’, an orthodox order founded after the death of Jalal al-DinRumi to preserve his teachings, the Bektaşi seem to have incorporated shamanisttraditions from Central Asia as well as beliefs and practices from Anatolianand Balkan Christianity.
However, Yunus never mentions Hacı Bektaş. He proclaims an even more exotic spiritual lineage, through Taptuk Emre to akalender known as Barak Baba, who is said to have roamedacross Anatolia withhis band of followers, a group notorious for wearing the bones of sacrificalanimals and alarming the people of the region by making a deafening noise withtrumpets and drums. Nevertheless, the poetry of Yunus Emre was undoubtedly admiredand emulated by generations of Bektaşi poets, the most famous being KaygusuzAbdal and Pir Sultan Abdal.
According to tradition, the lives of both Yunus Emre and Jalal al-Din Rumi were transformed by encounters with dervishes who are thought to have been kalenders, a Persian term of obscure origin that referred to those whose appearance and behaviour were intended as a rebuke to conventional Muslim piety. Many practiced the chahār ẓarb (the four blows)—shaving the head, beard, moustache, and eyebrows—wore few or no clothes, did not observe the fast of Ramadan, and consumed both hashish and alcohol. The kalenders represented a tendency within sufism rather than a particular sufi order, and although Rumi and Yunus both describe exalted states of mystical intoxication they also wrote of the importance of observing the requirements of the faith.
Although little is known of the life of Yunus Emre, he is believed to have wandered near Konya during the years in which the great Persian mystic and poet Jalal al-Din Rumi was teaching in the madrasas of the city. Although they
represented very different traditions of sufism—Yunus writing in Turkish and Rumi writing in Persian for an apparently more educated or more sophisticated readership—several accounts survive of meetings between them. Among
the most famous describes Yunus telling Rumi that the Masnavi,the spiritual epic in six volumes that Rumi dictated to one of his followers, was far too long. He claimed that he would have needed only two lines:
Ete kemiğe büründüm
Yunus diye göründüm
I wrapped myself in flesh and bone
I appeared as Yunus
The name that appears most frequently in the Divân of Yunus is not that of Jalal al-Din Rumi or any other sufi in Anatolia or even any of the great men of early Islamic history. It is that of Mansur al-Hallaj, who was executed at Baghdad in922. After losing a sense of individual identity in a state of ecstasy, Hallaj was said to have uttered the words anā ’l-ḥaqq (I am the Truth). According to later sufi tradition, this was seen as an intolerable blasphemy, or at least as an unacceptable disclosure in public of an elevated mystical experience, and provided the reason for his execution. However, Hallaj had also built a Kaba of his own and announced that the pilgrimage to Mecca was unnecessary. Whatever the reason for his execution, or the nature of the political intrigues at Baghdad in which he was enmeshed, later generations of sufis continued to admire him as a martyr for love who sought death and thereby gained a new life.
When Mehmet Fuad Köprülü transformed the study of Turkish Sufism a century ago by publishingTürk Edebiyatında İlk Mutasavvıflar (Early Mystics in Turkish Literature), he divided the book neatly between Ahmed Yesevi and Yunus Emre. One was depicted as a founding father of Turkish Sufi poetry in Central Asia during the twelfth centuryand the other as the founding father of Turkish Sufi poetry in Anatolia during the thirteenth and early fourteenth century. The latter, Köprülü believed,was profoundly influenced by the former.
The problem was that the poems attributed to Ahmed Yesevi and collected in the Divân-i Hikmet (Divan of Wisdom) may not have been composed until after his death. Köprülü was writing at the dawn of modern Turkish historiography and was unable to consult accurate editions or early manuscripts of the Divân-i Hikmetand of traditions surrounding their purported author. In any case, the traditions seem to have been compiled only after Timur, the founder of the Timurid Empire,provided a lavish mausoleum for Ahmed Yesevi in 1397.
Although so much that has been written about Ahmed Yesevi by Köprülü and his followers is no longer convincing—especially claims for the influence of shamanism on the Yesevi order and for the impactof the Yesevion the Bektashi in Anatolia—Ahmet Yesevi remains a central figure in any attempt to describe a specifically Turkish form of Sufism. In the Divân of Yunus Emre, however, his name is never mentioned.
In his Divân, Yunus Emre often refers to Majnun, an epithet meaning ‘possessed’ or ‘insane’. It was given to a young man named Qays, who was driven mad by love.
The most famous version of the story of Majnun and Layla, the girl with whom he fell in love while they were both still children, was written in Persian in the tenth century by the poet Nizami Ganjavi. It was the third in a collection of five narrative poems known as theKhamsa (Quintet). The story would be adopted by many other poets, including Amir Khusrow in the thirteenth century,Jami in the fifteenth century, and Fuzuli in the sixteenth century.
Qays and Layla fell in love while they were at school, but they were kept apart by Layla’s father. Despite their devotion to each other, her father married her to another young man. Qays then fled to the desert, where he lived among wild animals. Dismissed as mad, he became estranged from his family and his tribe. Emaciated and exhausted, he eventually died in the wilderness, convinced that he could see traces of his beloved Layla wherever he looked.
For poets writing in Persian and Turkish, Majnun became a potent symbol of a life that was sacrified to divine love. Abandoning reason in an ecstasy of devotion, hewandered alone in a desert of madness, oblivious to suffering and finally embracing death in his pursuit of the Beloved.
‘Yunus Emre transformed his Turkish mother tongue into a vehicle for mystical expression’
Yunus Emre is most famous for his Divân, a collection of several hundred individual poems only some of which are obviouslya uthentic. Some of them describe states of spiritual intoxication but other are less exuberant and insist on the importance
of performing the rituals required by Islamic law. He also wrote the Risâletü’n-Nushiyye (Book of Counsel), a spiritual allegory often regarded as a muqaddima or introduction to the Divân. It appears in some manuscripts
and some printed editions but not in all.
The books are different in style. Most of the poems included in the Divân were written in parmak hesabı, the Turkish metres based upon number of syllables. The Risâletü’n-Nushiyye, however, is a mesnevi whose rhyming couplets were written in aruz, the metrical system adopted from Arabic and Persian poetry and based upon length of syllables.
In the Divân, Yunus refers to himself as an aşık, a term that is often applied to wandering minstrels and has been taken to mean that at least his poems in parmak hesabı were oral compositions intended to be sung. It has been easy to assume that Yunus must therefore have been a ‘folk poet’, uneducated and perhaps even illiterate. Nevertheless, the erudition displayed in both books suggests that a sharp distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ traditions of sufism has often been exaggerated.
No manuscript written by Yunus Emre himself is known to survive. Of the manuscripts that do survive, the two most important are the Fatih Manuscript, which is preserved in Istanbul at the Süleymaniye Library, and the Karaman Manuscript, which is still in private hands. Although no date was recorded in either manuscript, they are believed to have been written in the 14th or 15th century.
Although an enormous number of books have been published in Turkey that purport to offer part or all of the Divân of Yunus Emre, most of them are unreliable. The first lithographic edition of the text in Arabic characters was published at Istanbul in AH 1302/1884–5. After the introduction of Latin characters in 1928, the most valuable texts have been those of Burhan Ümit, which was published in three volumes in 1933 and 1934, a series of editions by Abdülbâki Gölpınarlı beginning in 1943, and three volumes by Mustafa Tatcı that have appeared in various formats since 1990 and are now available in six volumes entitled Yûnus Emre Külliyâtı (Complete Works of Yunus Emre).
The Divân of Yunus Emre attracted a number of eminent commentators, including Niyazi Mısri and İsmail Hakkı Bursevi. The former, who died in1697 on the island of Limnos, was a Halveti shaykh as well as a brilliant mystical poet. The latter was a Celveti shaykh who died in 1725 at Bursa. He was a civil servant of remarkable vigour and erudition, a poet, a composer, and a scholar who wrote more than a hundred books and produced commentaries on the Quran, the Fuṣūṣ al-Ḥikam (Jewels of Wisdom) of Ibn al-Arabi, and the Masnavi-ye Maʿnavi (Spiritual Verses) of Jalal al-Din Rumi. Commentaries on the poems of Yunus are of particular interest because they were written in an elevated Ottoman Turkish and included references to Ibn al-Arabi, Rumi, and other authors who clearly belonged to an intellectual elite. Whatever claims have been made by modern historians that Yunus was a folk poet who wrote in a simple Turkish for an uneducated public, he had once been placed alongside the most gifted and learned exponents of the sufi tradition.
Whatever nationalist historians have tried toclaim, modern Turkish readers cannot easily understand the language in whichYunus Emre wrote seven centuries ago. They require translations into their ownlanguage, unless they have studied Old Anatolian Turkish. So does anyone else. The first English translations of poems byYunus Emre appeared in A History of Ottoman Poetry written by E.J.W.Gibb, a brilliant Ottomanist who died at a young age in 1901 while he wasworking on the second of its six volumes. Although his translations aregenerally dismissed as unreadable, Gibb had chosen the almost impossible taskof representing Turkish metre as well as Turkish rhyme within the constraintsof a very different language. In his own terms, at least, he was more successfulthan one might have expected.
Most subsequent translations have been lessthan satisfactory because the translators havenot known the language wellenough to make the attempt. Many have not known the language at all, and havetried to rely on advice from Turkish colleagues. In a few cases, this hassucceeded, one of the most impressive examples being a translation by the American poet laureate W. S. Merwin and the Turkish literary historian and poet TalâtSait Halman.
The whole universe is full of God
yet His truth is seen by no one
you have to look for Him in yourself
you and He are not separate you are One
The other world is what can’t be seen
here one arth we must live as well as we can
exile is grieving and anguish
no one comes back who has once gone
Come let us be friends this one time
let life be our friend
let us belovers of each other
the earth will be left to no one
You know what Yunus is saying
its meaning is in the ear of your heart
we should all live truly here
for we will not live here forever
No contemporary portrait survives of Yunus Emre. The depiction that has been used most frequently in recent decades was invented in 1947 for the magazine Yedigün (Seven Days) by the artist Münif Fehim. The design has also been used on dozens of books since it was first published, including the edition in six volumes prepared by Mustafa Tatcı in 1997. When the Central Bank of Turkey issued a new series of bank notes on 1 January 2009, the highest denomination included a portrait of Yunus Emre based upon the design by Münif Fehim. Despite its popularity, the portrait has no historical basis.
More than a dozen shrines are still venerated as the tomb of Yunus Emre. While the famous Green Dome was built at Konya soon after the death of Jalal al-Din Rumi in 1273, the death of Yunus Emre remains as mysterious as the dates of his birth and death. The most famous of the sites are at Eskişehir, at Karaman, and between Aksaray and Kırşehir.
‘Yunus Emre captured the genius of the Turkish language.’
As part of the attempt to replace the Ottoman Empire with a new and distinctively Turkish Republic, Yunus Emre was assigned a role as a cultural hero. He became a model for the recovery of a genuine Turkish literature and philosophy, a representative of values that were seen as genuinely Turkish but also in complete accord with Western civilization. One ofthe most admired presentations of this cultural program was an oratorio composed in 1942 by Adnan Saygun, in which Turkish folk melodies were combined with a Western musical forms in what was proclaimed to be a new fusion of East and West.
In recent years, Yunus Emre has been depicted in the filmYunus Emre: Aşkın Sesi (Yunus Emre: The Voice of Love), which was released in 2014, and in a major television series for TRT, the Turkish national radio and television service. Entitled Yunus Emre: Aşkın Yolculuğu (Yunus Emre: The Journey of Love), the series began in June 2015. By May 2016, forty-four episodes had been broadcast, each of them almost an hour in length. Both the film and the series will be of interest to anyone who has read the poetry of Yunus Emre, even if their depictions of Yunus reflect current attitudes in Turkey more than life in the Sultanate of Rum during the 14th century.
Roderick Grierson is the Director of the Rumi Institute and was one of the founding members of the institute when it was established by Gökalp Kâmil in 2002. He is Reviews Editor and Assistant Editor of the Mawlana Rumi Review, which has been
published by the Rumi Institute since 2010. He delivered the Süha Faiz Memorial Lectures at Near East University in 2009 and the Robertson-Hastie Lectures at the University of Glasgow in 2014. His translation of the complete works of Yunus Emre will
be published in two volumes by I. B. Tauris and will be accompanied by an introductory volume entitled Walking on Fire: Yunus Emre and the History of Anatolian Sufism. An exhibition catalogue entitled See What Love Has Done to Me: 125 Year of Printed Books on Yunus Emre will be published next year.
The English version of the Risâletü’n-Nushiyye is dedicated to Talât Sait Halman, who encouraged Roderick Grierson to translate a text that he had often hoped to turn into English himself but knew that he would never find time to complete. The English version of the Divân is dedicated to Süha Faiz. His own English version, based upon the Turkish edition published by Abdülbâki Gölpınarlı in 1961, is still the most complete translation into English of the Divân. The second and third editions of the translation were edited with new introductions by Roderick Grierson.