Jan 08 2014

Yunus Emre – The lover is outcast and idle

Published by at 10:48 am under Poetry

The lover is outcast and idle
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

My soul,
the way of the masters
is thinner than the thinnest.
What blocked Solomon’s way was an ant.

Night and day the lover’s
tears never end,
tears of blood,
remembering the Beloved.

“The lover is outcast and idle,”
they used to tell me.
It’s true.
It happened to me.

I tried to make sense of the Four Books,
until love arrived,
and it all became a single syllable.

You who claim to be dervishes
and to never do what God forbids —
the only time you’re free of sin
is when you’re in His hands.

Two people were talking.
One said, “I wish I could see this Yunus.”
“I’ve seen him,” the other says,
“He’s just another old lover.”

— from The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre, Translated by Kabir Helminski / Translated by Refik Algan


/ Photo by serhatdemiroglu /

I’ve missed the poetry of Yunus Emre. It’s been too long since our last dervish excursion with Yunus…

My soul,
the way of the masters
is thinner than the thinnest.
What blocked Solomon’s way was an ant.

Statements like this — “thinner than the thinnest,” “the way is narrow,” etc. — make it sound like the only way to real insight requires extremes that few are willing or capable to go to. We assume that every action, every thought, every impulse must be strictly regulated and control in order to pass the test and get our dervish diploma.

But that’s not it. It’s not that the intent seeker must live his or her life as a sort of psychic anorexic, harshly starving away every detail of life. No, the “thinness” of this road is a way of saying that our own sense of self and self-importance must be thinned. The successful mystic must be supremely humble, which can be as easy or as difficult as we choose to make it. Acquiring the necessary humility a healing exhalation, a loving embrace of all beyond our boundaries, or it can be a painful enforced humiliation — our choice.

But supreme humility, that’s the key. The inflated self cannot fit through this thinnest way.

Night and day the lover’s
tears never end,
tears of blood,
remembering the Beloved.

Tears, blood, pain… Sounds enticing, right? But don’t reflexively turn away from this idea too quickly. Here’s how I understand this sort of passionate statement: We, all of us, already feel this pain, all the time, we have just trained ourselves to ignore it. This is the fundamental pain of separation and isolation. As long as we imagine that we are separate from the people we love, the life we desire, the world we hope for, and, of course, God or some ultimate sense of Reality, as long as we imagine ourselves separated from these things, we feel pain. That pain is the universal human existential experience. Every relationship, all of society is built on this pain and how we deal with it.

Mystics, being crazy folks, embrace this pain, rather than run from it. To do so is an act of courage and self-honesty. It is a determination to encounter reality as it is, rather than the comfortable fantasy we want to project. Doing this also develops compassion and empathy for the secret struggles of others.

Perhaps most importantly, though, actively embracing the pain of separation opens hard-to-find pathways along the spiritual journey. Surprisingly, the pain itself becomes the doorway to reunion. By allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable to that pain, to surrender to it, the mystic finds the pain transformed into the blissful touch of the Beloved.

In other words, the ache of separation, viewed with a steady gaze, reveals itself to be a bridge of connection. It doesn’t seem logical from a distance, but it’s true: Yearning is union. So embrace those tears, but with purpose and confidence, and you’ll find an immense smile awaiting you beneath them.

“The lover is outcast and idle,”
they used to tell me.
It’s true.
It happened to me.

“Outcast and idle.” I like this phase on a few levels. The lover, the seeker, the mystic… why are they outcast? As I mentioned above, they view the world different, with commitment and honesty, a determination to see things as they actually are. That makes just about everyone else uncomfortable. The normal state is self-protection and hiding. It’s not really that everyone has something to hide, we just reflexively hide anyway. We want so much to be our masks, that the steady gaze of someone determined to see honestly frightens us, and we push them away. They become outcasts.

This doesn’t mean that the path of the mystic is necessarily one of isolation or lack of connection. It just means that you connect in a different way, hopefully in a way that is ultimately healing for those around you.

The word “idle” here is especially interesting to me. Idle can imply lazy, which the lover is not, or inactive, which might apply in the sense that the lover becomes free from self-will. Action flows through the lover, but doesn’t originate with the lover. Or we can say that the lover is idle in the sense of being still, at peace. The lover may or may not be active in the world, but there is a radiating quiet within her and her actions. Idle.

I tried to make sense of the Four Books,
until love arrived,
and it all became a single syllable.

These lines are wonderful.

We can study religious law and tradition, impress those around us with how well we’ve memorized it all, how closely with follow the letter of the law — but what does it really mean? Not much, until divine love bursts from our chest. And then… well, the irony is that we don’t need all those words any more. Everything is then resolved into a single word.

You who claim to be dervishes
and to never do what God forbids —
the only time you’re free of sin
is when you’re in His hands.

Ah, those troublesome mystics. They keep telling us that it’s not about rigidly following the rules. The rules don’t exist to be followed; they exist to point out a destination. The rulekeepers hate to hear the real truth: The rules, when the work, exist only to help us to yield into the embrace of the Beloved. That’s the only measure that counts.

Two people were talking.
One said, “I wish I could see this Yunus.”
“I’ve seen him,” the other says,
“He’s just another old lover.”

Have a beautiful day, all you old lovers.






Yunus Emre, Yunus Emre poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Yunus Emre

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Yunus Emre is considered by many to be one of the most important Turkish poets. Little can be said for certain of his life other than that he was a Sufi dervish of Anatolia. The love people have for his liberating poetry is reflected in the fact that many villages claim to be his birthplace, and many others claim to hold his tomb. He probably lived in the Karaman area.

His poetry expresses a deep personal mysticism and humanism and love for God.

He was a contemporary of Rumi, who lived in the same region. Rumi composed his collection of stories and songs for a well-educated urban circle of Sufis, writing primarily in the literary language of Persian. Yunus Emre, on the other hand, traveled and taught among the rural poor, singing his songs in the Turkish language of the common people.

A story is told of a meeting between the two great souls: Rumi asked Yunus Emre what he thought of his great work the Mathnawi. Yunus Emre said, “Excellent, excellent! But I would have done it differently.” Surprised, Rumi asked how. Yunus replied, “I would have written, ‘I came from the eternal, clothed myself in flesh, and took the name Yunus.'” That story perfectly illustrates Yunus Emre’s simple, direct approach that has made him so beloved.

More poetry by Yunus Emre

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Yunus Emre – The lover is outcast and idle”

  1. jonathanon 08 Jan 2014 at 3:37 pm

    A light in the darkness is Yunus and your.comment ,brillant .Truly a timeless moments,wile we srup slowly the dark chaihane’s bewerage,again, new year,
    in company of our heart desires,in this unique place of understanding.What more to wish?Have a humble dreams.

  2. marrobon 08 Jan 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Oh my! I’ve been sitting in stunned silence & sadness over the news of a friend’s
    passing, yet another loss to cancer.

    None of this makes sense, I wanted to shout. All the words of comfort poured
    out like all the tea in China can’t make a drop of difference. Is overwhelming grief the only way?

    And then Yunus Emre’s poem & the subtlety of your commentary bring the
    comfort of ‘the single syllable’, the embrace of the Beloved. And the sadness
    expands , like a light in the darkness, the rage subsides . the stillness beckons.

    With thanks & blessings for the new year.

  3. Aravindaon 09 Jan 2014 at 1:44 am

    Beautiful.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply