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Yunus Emre: The Sufi Poet in Love

by Zekeriya Baskal

Yunus Emre: The Sufi Poet in Love One of the most famous poets

: Apr 16, 2010 • 208 Pages • 15 X 22,5 • ISBN 9781935295051
: Biography & Memoir, Backlist,
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One of the most famous poets in the history of Turkish literature, Yunus Emre (d. 1320) is well-known as a Sufi saint-poet who has exerted a great influence in both the East and the West. This book is an analysis on Emre's ardent, deceptively simple, yet powerful expressions of love, the musicality of the verse, and the daring and sometimes even daunting imagery. UNESCO celebrated 1991 as the year of Yunus Emre.
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The commemoration by UNESCO in 1991 of the 750th anniversary
of the birth of the Anatolian Sufi poet, Yunus
Emre (ca. 1241–1321) and in 2007 of the 800th anniversary
of the birth of another Anatolian Sufi poet, Rumi (1207–
1273), has brought increased international acclaim to both of these
celebrated figures. Yet rarely has Yunus Emre been considered in
terms of the Islamic civilizational context he shared with Rumi in
an era when Muslim thinkers of the stature of Ibn Arabi (1165–
1240) and Fakhruddin Iraqi (1213–1289) were drawn to the intellectual
and artistic centers of Seljukid Anatolia. Both within Turkey
and without, Yunus Emre has been portrayed as an unlettered poet
of love whose vibrant poems lived across the centuries in the oral
traditions of the unsophisticated. In the present work, Zekeriya
Baskal seeks to rectify this limited understanding which thwarts
easy recognition of Rumi and Yunus as figures who shared the
same philosophical and cultural environment, but used different
languages, Persian and Turkish, and different genres of poetry,
mesnevi (or mathnawi, poems composed in rhyming couplets) and
ilahi (devotional hymn), to express their message.

Granted, the affinity of these two great poets has been stressed
in the past. In a brief essay Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (1901–1962),
the prominent intellectual, poet and novelist takes as a given “the
closeness in sensibility and mentality of Yunus to his renowned
contemporary Rumi,” but holds that this intellectual closeness cannot
diminish the distinctiveness that sets Yunus apart as poet of
unique singularity. ( Edebiyat Uzerine Makaleler, 1969 p. 141).
Speaking in more general terms, the well-known scholar of Islamic
mysticism, Annemarie Schimmel (1922–2003) has pointed out
Yunus Emre: The Sufi Poet in Love
that: “In the case of Yunus Emre, one cannot possibly deny the orthodox
Islamic foundation of all his thought, although some modern
Turkish interpreters are inclined to forget the Islamic roots of
his poetry. The Qur’an is for him the basis of all wisdom.” ( Halman,
ed. 1981 p. 65). Nevertheless, there continues to be a disinclination
to link Rumi and Yunus and a tendency to lift Yunus out
of his Muslim context altogether.

Zekeriya Baskal addresses this situation by drawing on recent
developments in reception and reader response theory to propose
a series of explanations. He provides an analytic overview of the
most prominent interpreters and schools of interpretation that
have characterized the reception of Yunus Emre’s poetry in the
20th century, while presenting evidence from across the centuries
that Yunus Emre had a place not only in the oral tradition, but also
among important segments of the Ottoman elites, including
composers, poets, and the writers of philosophical commentaries.

Furthermore, Baskal indicates that Yunus Emre was embraced as
an exemplary figure by a diversity of Sufi orders and that appreciation
of his poetry and its spiritual message was not exclusive to
the Bektashi order of dervishes. All of this is set in the context of
the historical and social conditions of Anatolia in which the
Seljukid centers of learning continued to flourish, despite the devastations
following the Mongol-Ilkhanid victory at Kosedag in
1243. Most importantly, Baskal takes into account Yunus Emre’s
poetic output in its entirety and demonstrates that its dominant
themes require analysis in terms of the philosophical concepts of
Islamic mysticism that were current in the centers of learning of
his day. Thus, Baskal’s analysis, which takes as a basic resource the
1990 critical edition by Mustafa Tatci, is consonant with Ahmet
Hamdi Tanpinar’s much earlier estimation that the individual poems
of Yunus “…which relate the mystical system with all of its
subtleties and his Risale-i Nushiyye (allegorical treatise) itself,
which was one of the important works of his period, show us in
clarity a truly exceptional mind and superior intellectuality nourished
on all the knowledge of his time.” Tanpinar continues his
thought by stating, “However, the faculty of mind and intellect
was not Yunus’ dominant quality. He was before all else a man of
the heart. He was one of those who found human fortune within
himself in all its pain and sublimeness.” ( Edebiyat Uzerine Makaleler,
1969 p. 141). It would be virtually impossible to find anyone, regardless
of interpretive framework, who would disagree with this
latter part of Tanpinar’s estimation, even if they were to disregard
or fail to comprehend the former. Ultimately, it may prove to be
that Yunus Emre will remain what readers choose to make of him,
as they relate to the power and beauty of his poems. We are fortunate,
however, to have available the present work, which for the
first time locates Yunus Emre in his own historical and cultural
context, while providing an informative and insightful analysis of
the multiplicity of competing modes in the interpretation of his
poetry, a first step perhaps towards a reconciliation of them.

Sarah G. Moment Atis
Professor of Turkish
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Note on Transliterationxiv
Chapter 1: The Age in Which Yunus Emre Lived and 
His Place in the Sufi Tradition of His Time1
The Social Context of the 13th and 14th Centuries3
An Overview of the Seljukid Period4
An Introductory Overview of Sufism15
The Brotherhoods with Which Yunus Emre can be Associated22
The Bektashi Order22
The Malami-Qalandari Order30
Yunus Emre’s Relationship with Rumi36
Chapter 2: An Analysis of Yunus Emre’s Poetry47
The Didactic Function of Sufi Poetry in the 13th and 14th Centuries49
Thematic Classification of the Poetry of Yunus Emre56
An Analysis of the Poems of Yunus Emre67
The Language of Yunus Emre77
Chapter 3: Reception of Yunus Emre81
Reception Theory/Reader Response Criticism83
Reception and Impact of Yunus Emre in the Ottoman Period90
Parallel Poems98
Reception of Yunus Emre in the Modern Period (1918–today)113
The Nationalist Mode of Interpretation113
The Heterodox Mode of Interpretation121
Humanist Mode of Interpretation129
Individual Interpretations132
A Selection of Poems from Yunus Emre’s Divan147
Select Bibliography189

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Zekeriya Baskal
Zekeriya Baskal

Zekeriya Baskal (Baskal) is a professor of Turkish LIterature teaching at Gaziosmanpasa and Ipek Universities in Turkey. He writes on Turkish literature, Sufism, and Turkish-Armenian relations.