A single word can brighten the face

by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan
Original Language Turkish

A single word can brighten the face
of one who knows the value of words.
Ripened in silence, a single word
acquires a great energy for work.

War is cut short by a word,
and a word heals the wounds,
and there's a word that changes
poison into butter and honey.

Let a word mature inside yourself.
Withhold the unripened thought.
Come and understand the kind of word
that reduces money and riches to dust.

Know when to speak a word
and when not to speak at all.
A single word turns the universe of hell
into eight paradises.

Follow the Way. Don't be fooled
by what you already know. Be watchful.
Reflect before you speak.
A foolish mouth can brand your soul.

Yunus, say one last thing
about the power of words --
Only the word "I"
divides me from God.

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

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/ Image by Graham Keen /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

A single word can brighten the face
of one who knows the value of words.


This is one of my favorite poems by Yunus Emre, but I have never really written up a good commentary to accompany it. Perhaps it is because it is a poem about words, the singular power of words, or the power of a singular word -- and I don't want my meditative ramblings to take away from the poem itself. It says it all so beautifully.

Ripened in silence, a single word
acquires a great energy for work.


I love that line. I have been busy with my day job of late, and I haven't been resting in deep meditation as much as I would like. The outer world has required a lot of energy from me lately. Yet I have still managed to catch moments of silence gently flowing beneath the activity. That's where the ripening happens.

War is cut short by a word,
and a word heals the wounds,
and there's a word that changes
poison into butter and honey.


I think this verse is the heart of the poem for me. I read it over and over again.

I think will say no more today, and let Yunus have the final word--

Yunus, say one last thing
about the power of words --
Only the word "I"
divides me from God.



Recommended Books: Yunus Emre

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