The gradual disintegration of the Byzantine Empire enabled the Mongol attacks in the thirteenth century to threaten the population of Asia Minor like torrents of great rivers, and to push various peoples from West to East and from East to West. Under such conditions, it is no wonder that various religious fraternities began to be founded in Anatolia, at the source of ancient religions. The more respectable ones had their headquarters in the then Seljuk capital, the city of Konya in Central Anatolia. The former Iconium, one of the hotspots of ancient Cappadocia, Konya at that time accepted the tekke of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the great Persian poet. Artists, guilds, scientists and the Seljuk aristocracy – princes nicknamed "kaus" (wise man, poet) gathered there. Fleeing Persia, they found refuge there and founded another, more modest Seljuk empire with the help of the newly arrived Turanian tribes and the remnants of the disappointed local population. Wandering dervish poets called Ashik, and sometimes Emre or Eren (holy man), were very common at that time. Some came from local mystical orders, while others came from Persia, Central Asia, Egypt and Greece.

Religion and nation –
My soul refused them both.

1) Very little is known about Yunus Emre, the famous 13th-century Turkish dervish poet. The data are scarce, and academics do not consider them authoritative. They consist mainly of ornate hagiographies of Bektashi origin. (The Bektashis later developed into a dervish order, and sought to portray all sorts of folk saints as part of their own brotherhood). Nonetheless, the legends of Yunus still paint a vivid picture of those times, as well as of the virtues attributed to the dervishes. He seems to have lived sometime between 1240 and 1320. His spiritual teacher was Taptuk Emre, a student of Sari Saltuk, a member of the "Heroes of the Roman Provinces" (Gazian-i-Rum), who were sometimes called by the Central Asian, Turanian nickname – Alp Eren – the one who reaches heights. Sari Saltuk was allegedly a Turkmen from Crimea. He arrived in Anatolia in the twelfth century, where he connected with one of the many groups of "Spiritual Heroes".

Yunus was most likely educated in Konya and then traveled the world to finally arrive at the Sarikoy tekke, near Eskisehir, in whose courtyard he was buried. According to popular hagiographies, he went to join the dervishes in times of famine and scarcity, after visiting Sari Saltuk, who was said to distribute wheat to the people. Yunus, with his donkey, went to the tekke to ask the holy man for help. Saltuk told him that he would gladly give him as many sacks of wheat as the donkey could carry, but that it would be better and more useful for him to forget the wheat and ask the dervishes for a blessing. Yunus replied that one could not live from blessings; mentioning his wife and children, he thanked him nicely and took the wheat. But on the uphill road to the house, he suddenly realized that the wheat would be eaten quickly and that everyone would be hungry again, so he returned to the tekke. After that, he spent fifty years as a lumberjack, the "wood collector" for Saltuk's famous friend Taptuk Emre. Silently, he collected dry wood and sticks, taking care not to damage any living plants. Only later did he become a poet. In his conversations with the Truth, he calls himself: Dervish, Ashik, Eren, Emre, Pauper and Beggar.

You, who do not understand,
You think I'm without faith.
Where can I put my faith,
When I have neither heart nor soul?

He is considered to be the first poet of Asia Minor to raise Turkish to the level of a literary language. Court critics were not always happy to recognize him, because he did not adhere to Persian and Arabic poetic forms. However, they were also forced to accept the spiritual power of his poems, claiming that "ilahiyyahs" or mystical inspirations and meditations, do not belong in beautiful literature. In this way, they tried to reduce his poetry to a shamanic-magical level. Despite harsh criticism, Yunus Emre is today considered a poet who had a strong influence on the development of Turkish literature as well as classical court music. After his death, a whole cult developed around his poems. He had a number of imitators, making it difficult for modern experts to separate his original poems from those written after his death. One of the interesting examples of this trend concerns a certain stubborn man named Mullah Kasim, who reportedly decided to censor Yunus Emre's poetry after the poet's death. Sitting in the woods by the creek, he began throwing non-orthodox verses into the water until he came across the following lines:

Yunus, be careful,
you twisted the words again.
One day Mula Kasim will come
To set you straight.

Upon reading these lines, Mula suddenly realized his own bigotry, but it was too late, as is usually the case. Thus, one third of Yunus Emre's poems went to fish and other aquatic creatures, the other was saved by birds and pulled out of the stream, and only the last third was left to humans.

2) Part of his opus consists of "mesnevis" and "nutuks", or didactic poems, composed according to the standard formulas, where he explains the basic concepts of Sufism: purification of spirit and summarization of personality, and human vices as opposed by virtues: greed-restraint, desire-patience, etc. Explaining the path of purification, he often sings about the lives of biblical and Qur'anic personalities as well as Sufi saints. These include the stories of Joseph, Edhem of Balkh – the Muslim version of the Buddha's life (also known as Ibrahim ibn Adham, or Ibrahim Balkhi), Mansur Hallaj, the famous mystic who was executed for claiming that he was the Truth, and so on. Through "mesnevis" and "nutuks" he also tries to prove his own orthodoxy and education, and then emphasizes that only after a person becomes a master of orthodox Islam can he surrender to mysticism or Sufism, which is a more humane approach to religion. He invites to the dervish tariqat only those who are able to adhere to that steep and difficult path and do not long for paradise and bliss, and who will, he claims, be judged according to Sufi laws, not according to "Muslim" ones. At the same time, he cannot resist mocking hypocritical theologians as well as Sufis.

yunus emre eskisehirThe tomb of Yunus Emre in Eskisehir, Turkey - one of his many purported tombs found all around Turkey.

The second part includes spiritual hymns or "ilahiyya", aids in condensing the spirit, recited as dhikr, i.e. a ritual of mentioning God’s names and gathering thoughts. The most important characteristic of "ilahis" is a strong sense of rhythm, as they lose meaning if they are not accompanied by adequate music, which Yunus often alludes to with a play on words. A special cycle could include "devriye" (overturns), also a typical form of dervish poems; their intention was to evoke the indestructibility and universality of the world spirit.

The dervish needs to understand that his body is an empty shell.

3) Similar to eminent court poets, Yunus composed a classical spring ode, the so-called "bahariya", according to Persian patterns, whose goal has always been to awaken the zeal of life. The majority of his poems, however, are lyrical, somewhat simpler, reminiscent of the "kosmas" inherent in the Turkish folk poetry of Central Asia. Their goal was to "for a moment" stop the thoughts that run through the head (kosma, or kosuk – something that runs), which as a rule should be allowed to disappear, but from time to time poets catch them to convey the spirit. In his lyrical poems, Yunus does not pay attention to courtly poetic forms and complicated Arabic metrics. He often returns to his favorite topic of the transience of life. There he expresses doubt in life and, through conversations with the Truth, longs to extinguish his "I"; this longing leads the dervish to place himself on the "bonfire of love", in order to clear the space in the soul. Man reaches such heights when God has mercy on himself, because only with mercy can the worldly suffering, necessary to extinguish one's own personality, be endured. The dervish needs to understand that his body is an empty shell. For that purpose, a lot of his poems consist of meditations in the cemetery. When a man realizes his own nothingness, he reaches the ideal of a dervish and then becomes a "majnun" – one who has completely lost himself. Thus purified, he is able to hear the inner voice of intuition and to be a real man: "Er", the one who reaches the truth through wisdom.

In his poems, Yunus Emre explains dervish ethics, the ethics of heroes, superhumans, unattainable to the common man who (still) believes in heaven and hell. A strong sense of rhythm and frequent use of puns is of course lost in translation, which makes it difficult for the translator to fully conjure up the feelings that Yunus himself was trying to arouse.


Is there a companion
On this futile road?
In search of a home
We are looking for a brother in vain

Why we settled here
Under a heavy yoke
Who will accept our burden
And who is our reason?         

They left us
Let's have some fun
You built a house, poor thing
Who is tearing it down?

Deceived, we have not
Reached the heavenly thrones
But who creates and dissolves
Deceptions and thrones?

Come on, Yunus
You have already calmed down
You are among the last on the road
And who is the first?


I was walking along the path when I met
A branched tree.
I was happy
My heart was pounding.

Tell me:
Why did you branch out?
Isn't the world transient?
Your own luxury
Is proof of that

Come on, be more modest
So beautifully adorned
Seemingly comfortable
And cheerful

Your heart yearns for the truth
And it doesn't know what it's missing.

The tree is a century old
The branches offer to the birds
A short respite

Neither a pigeon nor a magpie
They haven't come yet,
To perch on you.

You'll be gone in no time
You will become soil
Like ordinary wood, your branches
Will use to warm up a cauldron

And you, my Yunus
What is wrong with you?
You're advising a tree!
Let it be!


Everywhere I look
I only see you.
Where can I put you?
Is there a deeper darknesses?

You are impersonal.
Why do they seek your image?
Is there an image
Inside of ourselves?

Don't ask me about myself
I'm not here either

My face walks blankly
In empty clothes

The unattainable
Took me away from myself.


How to reach nothingness
Whoever sees it
Becomes it

The ray only illuminates you
If your essence is bright

My love has long ago
Taken away my ego

What a sweet pain,
That pain within the pain.


Sharia and Tariqat
Trails for wanderers
Truth is wisdom
The essence of the road.

"Suleiman knew
The language of the mute. "
But the real Suleiman, where is he?
Not here.

The rites disappear
At the bottom of the soul
They have no purpose
In that depth.


If you want a lesson,
Visit the graves.
Even a stone would melt
To see them.

They used to have
Vain riches
I am watching them now.
Well, here they are
In the only shirt
A sleeveless one.

Those who
Had everything
Palaces and castles
Now lie crammed
Under the same roof
The stone covers them.

Where are those heroes?
Their house
Was too small for them

Where are their
Sweet mouths
And sun-like faces?

It's all lost now.
Without a trace.

Now look,
And tell me: Who is the master,
Who is the servant?

No door to walk through
No guards,
And no food.

Nor is there light for them
To see their today
Turning into yesterday.

Ashik mourns in all languages
Tears stream down his cheeks
And me, in these foreign lands,
Will I face death?


Longing for calm
I'm trying to find the land of a Friend
To offer him my own being
Will I never find loneliness?


You unfortunate one,
There is no consolation for your pain.

Go on, wander from city to city -
You're a stranger like me.

I was an Ashik too
Traveled in Greek
And the Persian lands,
And in Yemen ...


Oh Yunus, you will arrive.
Rub the dust from your feet onto your face
Maybe the Truth will
Have mercy
And stay by my side.

Poor thing, you long for holiness
Heaven and earth are full.

Under every stone
There is the infinite, holy Truth.

If my soul disappears
Be her life
Awaken the dead heart
Let it jump

Let death be life
Let eternity be sought
And awaken the dead heart

It's easy when you're here
Be the light for the eye
That looks at nothingness.


Ashik's soul is dying.
The dervish is poor,
His eyes are full of tears,
He moves slower than a sheep.

No, you're not a dervish
Muhammad was gentle
You often get angry
While this anger is in you
You can't be a dervish.

My dear Yunus
Why are you always arguing
As long as such anger holds you
You won't be a dervish.

If you like to fight
Why do you need hands
If you swear
Why do you need a tongue
If you're a dervish
Why do you need a soul?


Sirat is thinner than a hair, sharper than a sword
"A house should be built on it"
Below is hell, a glowing pit
"We dream of resting in its shadow"

Good luck to you, sages of God,
on your way to hell.

(Sirat is a bridge which, according to Muslim tradition, souls cross after death)


This world is a big city
Life - the bustle of the market
He who strays is gone

Illusions about the city
Lure all sorts of fools.
A series of adventures and miracles,
Tricksters and vampires.

The city has a ruler,
It protects us all;
If you get closer to it
The nothingness clears up.

Religion and nation –
My soul refused them both.

Those who understand that,
Why do they need a heart, or a soul?

You, who do not understand,
You think I'm without faith.

Where can I put my faith,
When I have neither heart nor soul?

Prayers are formless
If you live in love,
And the tongue falls silent
When its words are gone.

How to measure love
In the market without losses and gains.

Love washes away wealth
Of those who renounce both good and evil.

We neither curse nor fear.
We have lost our shell.


I am the rulerŽ
The one who stops everything

I'm a hero
And I'm a battlefield

I'm a highwayman
I'm fearless

Strength comes from truth
And that's me

Abu Bakr and Omar
Honorable believers,
Both Ali and Osman
It's all me.

I'm hitting the ball,
I'm the stick
And a field on which
The ball rolls.

And now I'm Yunus
And I am the sultan's slave
And I am the sultan
It is me.


Before I was born, I was alone
Pure love
Light without a trace.

I was aware in the presence of that vain power
I had neither a friend nor a companion,
Before the world came into being
Before the word was uttered.

Before the tablets were stolen
I was a sublime force
I came and went countless times

Created creatures, and to this one
I gave the name Yunus.

Let's start with a nice word
Let us fill the heart with zeal
Let us repeat along the way: La ilaha illa Allah

That fills the heart with happiness
Wards off the nigthmare, lifts the soul
La ilaha illa Allah

Opens the door, seeks the Truth
Extracting deep secrets from the dust
La ilaha illa Allah


Tambourine, where are you from, what are you
I ask nicely, answer me, whisper
Yes, I am wood and lambskin
Forget, listen to me and don't go crazy.

I know the Truth, I never cheat,
I don't know where I'm from, they told me
That I am a board, that I know about love
Love gave me a name.

I came merrily, I filled the world with hope.
Behold, in the midst of my living heart they cast me out,
The tree cast off its bark and fell
Into the sea of ​​love – there's no other way:
Now the tambourine follows the speech of truth.

"Remember that day and night are with you,
Angels, the tireless scribes
One writes the good, the other the evil,
Remember the Almighty ”.

Ah, and the tambourine is no different
From the world's sages!


The song of spring

Spring breeze again
Blows pleasantly
A breath that prevents
The dignified winter

Immeasurable mercy gives us back
Nightingale's song,
The new summer has come
And luck smiles on us

Fresh soil, precious
Taking out new dresses
The life has come back
Trees, grasses – adorned

And they were dead
Love gives them now
New life. New name.

Offspring sprout and bloom
Down fields and wastelands

A stream leaps drunkenly
The worlds are sowing seeds

The universe is rejoicing
While the soil paints its face
In various colors

The nightingale sings, looking at the rose
Life sways on the branches

Yunus, you Ashik, emerge
From nothingness!

The pride is destroyed
So better get drunk
From the cup of love.

Abdulbaki Golpinarli, Yunus Emre, Hayati ve Butun Surleri, Istanbul, 1983.
Mehmed Acikgoz, Yunus Emre Divani ve Siirleri, Istanbul
Fuad Koprulu, Turk Edebiyatinda Ilk Mutasavviflar, Ankara, 1981.
Alessio Bombaci, Storia della Litteratura Turca, Milano, 1962.