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Turkish Poetry

Turkish Poetry

Here are some resources on Turkey poetry beginning with the Ottoman Empire and other languages influencing it.  This will help you understand how the different styles of Turkish poetry shape poets and their writing in today’s culture.  Please refer to our other guides on different English topics as you continue reading further about various literature topics.

Turkish poetry might technically be said to have begun with the Ottoman Empire in the 1300s, as this was the beginning of an Ottoman-Turkish language and control of the region now known as Turkey, among other lands, by people who spoke Ottoman Turkish. However, the Ottoman-Turkish language was spoken by government and scholarly leaders and was never truly understood or used by the more common residents of what is now Turkey. The more common rough-Turkish, which was less influenced by Persian and Arabic, became the more familiar modern Turkish language. Nevertheless, the Ottoman-Turkish language was used for poetry writing and other literature for many centuries and likely influenced modern Turkish poetry.

Turkish poetry broke into two forms: the Folk poetry and Divan poetry. The Folk poetry had two branches, a secular and a religious part. The secular material tended to be anonymous and performed by traveling minstrels. This style faded out as recently as the 19th century and revived in the 20th. Karacaoğlan, Köroğlu, and Dadaloğlu were famous aşıks of the 16th through 18th centuries, while Veysel Şatıroğlu and Mahzuni Şerif helped to repopularize the style in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Divan religious poetry was also intended to be sung; however, unlike the Folk poetry, Divan poetry was written down from its start. The religious leaders who created the poetry-songs were very literate, as compared to the aşıks and their audiences. This form, which used the Ottoman-Turkish language of the courts and palaces, was very influenced by Arabic and Persian styles and incorporated many words from those languages. Divan poetry was also very structured. But they included all emotions in their works, getting materials from legend, myth, and stories of secular and religious influences. These poems were almost never named and authors worked through aliases, rarely their own name. But some of the important names in this art from the 12 to 1600s are Yunus Emre, Süleyman Çelebi, Kaygusuz Abdal, and Pir Sultan Abdal.

Modern Turkish poetry began around the time the Republic of Turkey was established. Some poems were done in the Ottoman style, but a movement called syllabist began that used nationalistic themes and a basis in Folk meters. This new movement was the more popular form. Soon after, Ahmet Haşim altered the constricting forms of the Divan style and Nâzım Hikmet brought his education in the Soviet Union to Turkish poetry and he began writing without meter or structure at all. Necip Fazıl and Yahya Kemal are the other two early influences in Turkish poetry. These four influence nearly every poem in Turkey today.

Nâzım Hikmet was educated in Russia in the 1920s. His experiences and exposure to modernist poetry there made him consider poetry less focused on form. He also considered Socialism as a political movement. This second consideration was not very popular in his home country. His poems were banned and he was arrested many times. He spent a lot of his adulthood in prison or exile. But his poems continued to be sought after; they have been translated into 50 languages.

After this beginning Turkish poets began to branch out. Some continued the traditions of forms and meters while others used free verse. Some wrote in a more conventional style and language while some used a formal tone that limited their audience. Humor, irony, life experiences, satire all found their way into poems. In the 1940s there was a Socialist movement and several poets followed Nâzım Hikmet political views in their own writing. Unfortunately, their fortunes also followed Nâzım Hikmet and many were imprisioned or exhiled and their material was banned as part of anti-Socialism.

As the political and social tides in Turkey changed, the poems and poets changed. After a military coup in 1960 a mystical style was introduced and poetry became freer while using traditional styles. Following this freedom poetry had a period of Socialist interest and poems began to have a slogan-like quality as political views began to use poetry as a method of communication. A movement in the 80s brought poetry back to focusing on aesthetic concerns rather than political messages. Poems became less image-intensive and more metaphysical. The wide array of styles that prevented categorization that grew up in the 80s continued into the 90s and is probably still influencing Turkish poets and poetry today.

  • English-translated Turkish poems with some discussion
  • Turkish poems that have been translated by an Turkish-English language class
  • Brief biography of Nazim Hikmet, probably the most famous modern Turkish poet
  • Several famous historical Turkish persons and short biographies
  • Many important writers and thinkers from Turkey, including several poets
  • Turkish literature, including a section on poetry, from early history through modern
  • Turkish-English language class website posting contemporary Turkish women poets and their work
  • The poetry of the Ottoman empire, movements, styles, and poets
  • Discusses modern Turkish poetry it’s influences and how it has influenced other works
  • Discussion of the modern poet, Saadat Saeed