The Wandering Fool

cover illustration by Abidine

Out of Print

by Yunus Emre

ISBN 0 932274 39 2
first edition 1987
60 PAGES. 5½" x 8½"

Translations from the medieval Turkish by Edouard Roditi
Foreword by Güzine Dino
Letterpress on Mohawk Superfine by Enderby Press

About the Book

Paradoxical: earthly and spiritual, simple yet subtle, these poems of a 13th century Sufi mystic are strikingly contemporary in their spontaneous outburst of faith and disbelief, ecstatic yearning and melancholy despair. Like his predecessor Omar Khayyam, Yunus was obsessed with the transience of life and like his contemporary Rumi he sought the obliteration of self in union with the Beloved. At times he speaks in riddles, at times in moving prayer.

Edouard Roditi's translations catch the vernacular speech of this poet, first to compose in Turkish rather than the courtly Persian; his long afterword, published in Alif, journal of the American University in Cairo, and a foreword by Güzin Dino of the Ecole des Langues Orientales of Paris, illuminate Yunus' unique place in Islamic literature.

In his native Turkey, the words of Yunus Emre are as well-known as those of that other great thirteenth century Turkish poet, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. But unlike Rumi, Yunus has been virtually unknown in the West—until now.

Two great traditions of Turkish spiritual culture flow from these two men. Whereas Rumi wrote in classical Persian, Yunus wrote in Turkish—or what was the vernacular of the Turkish peasant in his day. And as the first person to write great literature in Turkish, Yunus Emre is a father of that language—a kind of Chaucer, or Shakespeare, or author of the King James Bible (or maby all three rolled into one). Out of Rumi's poetry, and out of the whirling dervish ceremony his folowers developed, came a whole tradition of classical Turkish music. The poems of Yunus Emre, on the other hand, inspired the Turkish folk tradition of esoteric hymns, or ilahee, which are sung informally in groups, or by solitary balladeers accompanying themselves on a guitar-like instrument called the saz. Where Rumi's poetry is rich in narrative imagery, Yunus' is terse and confrontative. The craft of Yunus Emre expresses itself in the rhythm and economy of his language, and how he plays with Turkish figures of speech. Thus, while Rumi provides the translator with many possibilities, it is nearly impossible to do justice to Yunus Emre in translation.

If I were to summarize the message of Yunus Emre, it would be that “suffering the discipline of love leads to the source of love.”

Roditi gives us only twenty poems. About a third of the book is taken up with a four-part essay on the “themes” in Yunus' poetry, in which Roditi displays a wide-ranging knowledge of European literature, but little acquaintance with the Sufi background of Yunus Emre.

Nevertheless, I find two virtues in this book. The first is that it is printed by letterpress, so that you can feel the type with your finger tips—a rare treat in a book nowadays! And second, there is a single poem within its covers which conveys with great eloquence a certain feeling of Yunus Emre; though the translation may not be perfect, in my opinion it justifies the publication of the entire book:

I walk ahead red-hot, red-hot,
and dyed in blood by love,
no longer wise nor possessed:
see what love has done to me. . . .
I babble like a running brook
while I let my heart bleed from its wound.
see what love has done to me. . . .

Wandering now from land to land,
speaking to you in all my speech,
who is there here to feel my pain,
see what love has done to me.

I've become the Madman, the Wandering Fool;
in my dreams I see my love,
then waken to this dreadful pain,
see what love has done to me.

I'm Yunus, poor and distraught,
from top to toe an open wound.
Far from my Friend's home I wander,
see what love has done to me.

— Ya'qub ibn Yusef

GNOSIS MAGAZINE, Spring 1990, #15

Among all the figures of a millennium of Turkish literature rediscovered and reevaluated in modern Turkey, Yunus Emre (d. circa 1321) looms largest and exerts a compelling power. His simple, lilting lyrics served as a wellspring of folk mysticism as well as the tradition of popular verse. In the twentieth century Yunus Emre has struck a vital chord with his themes of humanism, antinomian faith, humanitarian values, and the ecumenical spirit. At a time when virtually all the corpus of Ottoman classical verse seems dead, he stands as a contemporary poet. . . . Roditi, one of the world's celebrated polyglots is not a newcomer to Turkish literature.

The “modern” tone is dominant in the versions by the master translator Edouard Roditi. . . . Translating Yunus Emre is an awesome task, and Roditi has wisely enlisted the expertise of Güzine Dino, who teaches Turkish Languages, University of Paris. There are subtleties which nonetheless seem to have proved elusive. The major problem of transposing multiple meanings and layers of mystical significance often remains unresolved. Still, on the whole, the twenty poems in this small and attractive book are readable, enjoyable, and impressive.