Yunus Emre

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YUNUS EMRE (d. 1321), Turkish mystic, initiator of popular mystic poetry in Turkish literature, and one of the greatest poets in that language. Apart from a few notes in sixteenth-century biographical works, the life of Yunus Emre remains shrouded in legend. More reliable biographical data can be gathered from his own corpus, which recent research (particularly by Abdülbâki Gölpınarlı) has sifted out from the mass of poems produced by contemporary or later anonymous authors who attributed their own work to him.

According to available evidence, he was born in the village of Sarıköy (modern Emre) in central Anatolia, educated in the classical Islamic sciences, and later trained in the mystic path by a certain Tapduk Emre, whom he often mentions in his poems with great veneration. He seems to have lived mostly in the region of his birth and to have died and been buried in the same village. There is also evidence that he traveled to Syria and Azerbaijan, as well as to Konya, where he may have met the great mystic poet Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, whose thought and mystic fervor exercised considerable influence on him.

Yunus Emre's writings include a short didactic mathnavī and his dīvān, or collected poems. The mathnavī, Risalet ün-nushiyye (Book of Counsels), written in 1307, is an allegorical poem of 575 couplets in classical Persian meter, with a prose introduction. Elaborating on certain human virtues and vices along orthodox Muslim lines, it is rather sober and uninspired in style and not typical of his work. Rather, his fame rests primarily on his dīvān, which is the first one in Turkish literature. It consists of about 350 poems, most of which dwell on variations of pantheistic thought, the tribulations of the initiate, the various stages of the mystic path, guidance to the "straight path," the nature of real knowledge (ʿirfān) as different from worldly science (ʿilm), the confession of one's errors and shortcomings and the enjoyment of self-accusation (melāmet), and nostalgic and evocative themes of the years away from home. Smaller numbers elaborate on orthodox religious themes, with frequent reference to the Qurʾān and the traditions of the Prophet, and to popular stories of prophets and saints, or address the obsessive idea of death, otherworldliness, and eternity.

These poems are addressed to the masses of ordinary people. They are mainly written in the spoken Turkish of the early fourteenth century, with a moderate number of Arabic/Persian loanwords, and the predominant meter follows the traditional Turkish syllabic form. Their great popular appeal over the centuries can be ascribed to Yunus's simple and direct style, his enthusiastic lyricism, and the skill with which he made mystic and pantheistic philosophy accessible. Both the style and the language of his poems continued to exert a tremendous influence on most of the popular mystic poets down to the eighteenth century.


Gölpınarlı, Abdülbâki. Yunus Emre: Hayati. Istanbul, 1936.

Gölpınarlı, Abdülbâki, ed. Yunus Emre divani. Istanbul, 1943. With a facsimile of a fifteenth-century manuscript.

Gölpınarlı, Abdülbâki. Yunus Emre ve tasavvuf. Istanbul, 1961.

Régnier, Yves, ed. and trans. Le divan de Yunus Emré. Paris, 1963.

Schimmel, Annemarie. "Yunus Emre." Numen 8 (1961): 1233.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N. C., 1975.

Sefercioğlu, Nejat, and İsmet Binark. Yunus Emre hakkinda bir bibliyoğrafya denemesi. Ankara, 1970.

Fahİr İz (1987)