One Who Is Real Is Humble

by Yunus Emre

English version by Jennifer Ferraro & Latif Bolat
Original Language Turkish

To be real on this path you must be humble --
If you look down at others you'll get pushed down the stairs.

If your heart goes around on high, you fly far from this path.
There's no use hiding it --
What's inside always leaks outside.

Even the one with the long white beard, the one who looks so wise --
If he breaks a single heart, why bother going to Mecca?
If he has no compassion, what's the point?

My heart is the throne of the Beloved,
the Beloved the heart's destiny:
Whoever breaks another's heart will find no homecoming
in this world or any other.

The ones who know say very little
while the beasts are always speaking volumes;
One word is enough for one who knows.

If there is any meaning in the holy books, it is this:
Whatever is good for you, grant it to others too --

Whoever comes to this earth migrates back;
Whoever drinks the wine of love
understands what I say --

Yunus, don't look down at the world in scorn --

Keep your eyes fixed on your Beloved's face,
then you will not see the bridge
on Judgment Day.

-- from Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey, Translated by Jennifer Ferraro / Translated by Latif Bolat

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Yunus Emre gives us several wonderful lines in this poem...

There's no use hiding it --
What's inside always leaks outside.


That just about sums up the spiritual perspective of everything, doesn't it? One way or another, the inner world always reveals itself. Whatever masks we wear eventually fall away or slowly take the shape of what lies beneath. Why hide what's inside? We should cultivate and celebrate that inner self. It will show itself anyway.

This poem in general seems to be a critique of religious hypocrisy, and specifically it deflates the idea of religious superiority. Those first lines give us a strong image:

To be real on this path you must be humble --
If you look down at others you'll get pushed down the stairs.


I imagine a stern qadi (or bishop or preacher or rabbi) who has spent his life carefully studying the minutia of religious law and has come to see everyone as falling short. He casts a cold eye on flawed and worldly humanity and judges them all to be far beneath him. It's as if he is looking down a long staircase at the world.

That figure is in far greater spiritual danger than most of the people he looks down on. The thing he hasn't recognized is how unstable those stairs are. Any distance of spiritual perfectionism we construct in our minds is inherently rigid and brittle, yet it must stand on a living, shifting ground. Those stairs will always collapse in the end.

The more people "look down on the world in scorn," the further they fall. This is unavoidable gravity.

Even the one with the long white beard, the one who looks so wise --
If he breaks a single heart, why bother going to Mecca?
If he has no compassion, what's the point?


Yunus Emre gives us the essential keys: humility and compassion. Everything else leads to pretense, which disjoints the soul, and false superiority, which enforces the illusion of separation and leads to collapse.

Yunus, don't look down at the world in scorn --
Keep your eyes fixed on your Beloved's face,
then you will not see the bridge
on Judgment Day.


We shouldn't miss the logic of the first two lines: When we cast scornful eyes on the world, we can't possibly see the Beloved's face. The opposite is true, as well; when we are transfixed by the beauty of the Beloved, we see nothing but beauty. This is a clue... any religious figure who speaks with scorn, is not engulfed by the vision of the Divine and should be avoided.

The final couple of lines are also worth understanding. What does he mean about seeing or not seeing a bridge on Judgment Day? According Muslim tradition, in order to enter Paradise, one must cross as-Sirat, a bridge that is as thin as a hair and as sharp as a blade. But the purest never have to encounter the bridge. Yunus Emre is saying that it is only when we are not already lost in the vision of the Beloved that we must face the bridge. With that hair-thin bridge waiting, wasting focus on scorn is a dangerous thing, indeed.


To me, this is a powerful poem on the importance of compassion, humility, and proper spiritual focus. And it is a good reminder to us all that everything returns to the Golden Rule:

If there is any meaning in the holy books, it is this:
Whatever is good for you, grant it to others too --



Recommended Books: Yunus Emre

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology)
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Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty
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Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems
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Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey
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The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre
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