Translated from the Turkish
by Kabir Helminski and Refik Algan


These poems — songs, really; love songs for God — were written six hundred years ago by an illiterate Turkish peasant whom some consider to be the greatest folk poet in the history of Islam.

Until last month I’d never even heard of him. Like most Westerners, I’m shamelessly ignorant about the Islamic tradition; also, until now, there has been no major translation in English of his remarkable work.

But after reading The Drop That Became The Sea, I understand why Yunus Emre’s songs are still quoted throughout Turkey by young and old, peasants and scholars. The earthy mysticism of these words leaps across the centuries; they speak of an ecstatic love of nature and of God, and of a soulful recognition that the human heart is the point of awareness where God is realized in each of us.

Not much is known about Yunus’s life. An unlettered shepherd, with a vocabulary of perhaps several thousand words, he sang in the language of the common people, using simple poetic forms. He downplayed dogma and satirized the hypocrisy of organized religion; because of this, his work barely survived. Some centuries after Yunus lived — according to his translator, Kabir Helminski — a collection of his songs came into the hands of an orthodox and narrow-minded cleric by the name of Mullah Kasim. “This Mullah Kasim,” Helminski writes, “sat himself down on the bank of a stream and began to read Yunus’s lyrics. Reading through song after song, the Mullah could be heard to mutter the word ‘blasphemy,’ crumpling that particular page and throwing it into the stream. Unfortunately, he had gone through about two-thirds of the collection before he read the line in which Yunus reminds himself, ‘Speak truly, for one day a Mullah Kasim will judge you.’ At that point the Mullah stopped discarding pages. The lyrics that were not cast upon the waters comprise what we know of Yunus’s work today.’’

Yunus was the first of a whole tradition of Sufi troubadors who sang of the Divine Presence, the Beloved, the Friend. It is through love, Yunus believed, that God calls us. Love is the cause and essence of everything. “Love is my sect and religion,” he said.

Yunus’s work was translated by Refik Algan, M.D., who lives in Istanbul and is a student of the Sufi path, and Kabir Helminski, who lives in Vermont and is a graphic designer and the publisher of Threshold Books. Helminski is also the translator of the mystical poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi.

The Drop That Became The Sea is available for $9.50 postpaid from Threshold Books, RD 4, Box 600, Putney, VT 05346. We’re thankful for permission to print the following selections.

— Ed.

If you need to be warned, come, look at these graves.
Even a stone would soften after seeing them.

And those with great riches, see to what end they came,
wrapped in simple cloth, a shirt without sleeves.

Where are those who used to say “These riches are mine,”
who weren’t satisfied merely with a fine house.

Now they’re covered with stone.

They never were at home in God’s house.
They neglected the rules, the worship.
They never learned to serve. Now their time is passed.

Here are those who talked so well,
those with sun-tanned faces.
They have died and disappeared.

Once these were the bosses many worked for.
Come and tell me now — which is which?

There’s neither a door to enter nor food to eat.
There’s no light to see. Daylight is now darkness.

Yunus, all you call your own you’ll leave behind.
Your possessions will abandon you.

My love for You goes deeper than my own soul.
My way amounts to this:
I don’t say I’m inside of myself. I’m not.
The I within me is deeper than myself.

Anywhere I look, it’s filled with You.
Where can I put You if You’re already inside.
You are Beauty without features,
something deeper than any signs.

Don’t ask me about myself. I’m not inside.
My body walks. I’m clothed, yet empty.
I can’t lay a hand on the One who took me from myself.
You can’t go over the head of the Boss.

Some people get their share of revelations,
and some people go deeper than this.
In the beautiful light of His face
is a fire brighter than the light of day.

What a suffering it is
that’s deeper than any remedy.
The Law and the Brotherhood are paths.
Truth and Wisdom are still deeper.

They say Solomon: knew the language of birds.
Within Solomon is a deeper Solomon.
I’ve forgotten religion and piety.
What if there’s a doctrine deeper than religion?

The works of those who leave the faith
are blasphemy. What about a blasphemy
that goes deeper than faith?
Yunus chanced to meet a Friend
who showed him a door inside.

Before you’re able to give your soul,
you want the Beloved.

Before you discard the rope of doubt,
you want faith.

You repeat, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord.”
But you haven’t known and you want to surpass the angels.

You’re a child who wants to jump on a horse
and ride into the game without a polo stick.

You don’t know you’re a pearl within mother-of-pearl.
Without first ruling Egypt, you want the land of Canaan.

Yunus, endure every trouble as Job did.
Don’t take the remedy before the pain.

I have found the soul of souls.  
Let this soul of mine be taken.  

I’ve forgotten gain and loss.  
Let this shop of mine be plundered.  

I’ve passed beyond my very self.    
I’ve removed the veils before me.  

I am together with the Friend.  
Let these doubts of mine fall away.  

My own ego abandoned me.   
The Friend took everything I had.  

Those who give and take are friends.    
Let this language of mine be jumbled.  

I cut all ties and went to the Friend.  
I fell in with God. Let my poems be scattered.  

I became tired of twoness    
and ate at the table of Oneness.  

I drank the wine of suffering.
Let all my remedies be thrown out.  

Since this journey of Being began,
the Friend has rushed to meet us.

Light has filled the ruins of this heart.
Let this universe of mine be shattered.  

I have passed up dreams.
I have tired of summers and winters.

I have found the Gardener of flowers.  
Let this garden of mine be dug up.

Yunus, you say it well,
smooth as honey.

I have found the honey of honeys.
Let this hive of mine be given away.

The Truth fills the world,
but to whom is Truth known?
You ask so much of It,
but It isn’t separate from yourself.

You believe in the world,
you claim your daily bread as your own.
How long will you keep up your lie?
You know it’s not like that.

It’s a long way to the other world.
Be honest with yourself
through all the separation and painful yearning.
Those who attain do not return.

Those who come to the world will
one by one drink the juice of death.
This world is just a bridge
although the young wouldn’t guess it.

Come, let’s get to know each other
and make our work easier.
Let’s love, let’s be loved.
No one inherits this world.

Yunus, if you can understand,
if you can hear the meaning,
find a little happiness.
No one’s here forever.

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 a 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.