Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem was born on March 14, 1847 in Istanbul to an influential family. From an early age, he started taking Persian and Arabic lessons from his father Recaizade Mehmet Sakir Efendi, a journalist and one of the chief personalities of his period. Eventually, Ekrem became both a state official and a teacher of literature. His friends Namik Kemal and Abdülhak Hamit, both prominent writers of the period, initiated him into literary circles. Because he only wrote one novel, Ekrem was better known as a poet and a playwright and he contributed to the fervent poetic language debates of the period by creating the concept of “rhyme for the ear.” This idea was unheard of at the time, and it set him apart from the other poets of the period. This is how Ekrem found himself among the ranks of the Servet-i Fünun community. The idea that rhyme should be based on sonic harmony rather than orthographic resemblance was a revolution in poetry, and it brought the end of the “visual rhyme” tradition, which had been going on for centuries. As a new generation of poets espoused this novelty, the Servet-i Fünun movement was born. Later on, in the mid 1890s, the Servet-i Fünun community disbanded and Ekrem lost his beloved son; these events would prove to be deep crisis for the poet.

Ekrem is one of the most prominent representatives of the renovation movement in Turkish literature, which started in the 1860s with writers such as Ibrahim Sinasi, Namik Kemal, and Abdülhak Hamit. Because of his two vocations as a literature teacher and a poet, he has been one of the guiding lights of Turkish literature. The versatile Ekrem continued the tradition of Divan poetry but he was also quite influenced by vernacular speech and the tendency to adopt local color and language. Ekrem's poetry made heavy use of themes such as love, nature and death, and this makes it possible to trace the influence of French poetry. He wrote a small number of poems in hece vezni (poems featuring equal number of syllables per line) but he used aruz (complex poems dependent on syllable length) more frequently. From the exuberant to the metaphysical, his works exhibited an immense tonal range. For Ekrem, a simple bird, a color that the sea takes, a broken branch could constitute enough stimuli to compose a poem. The poet became even more fragile and sensitive after the death of his child, and his poetry took on a much more sentimental direction.

The fact that Ekrem was a teacher of literature has played a very important role in his contribution to Turkish literature. His aim was to pass on to new generations the love of literature, through a systematic study approach. According to his philosophy, the beauty of a literary piece or poem could not be determined singularly through the emotions that it evoked in the reader, but it needed to be checked against a set of aesthetic criteria. A poem first had to meet this objective aesthetic criteria, its emotive quality was secondary. Ekrem made tremendous effort to familiarize his students with modern literary criticism, and this was one of the serious contributions he made to Turkish literature.

Ekrem's only novel Araba Sevdasi is one of the most popular works of Turkish literature, and it is still widely read today. Bihruz Bey, the main character of the novel is a spoiled and fragile character who inherits a tremendous fortune from his father. The novel recounts how Bihruz Bey exhausted the inherited wealth in excessive entertainment, and how he spent his fortune as a result of his vanity. Araba Sevdasi is noteworthy because it marks the first use of the stream of consciousness technique in a Turkish novel. This was a brand new concept for the Turkish novel, which still showed a predilection to stay away from modern literature. Furthermore, despite the fact Ekrem explored hitherto unknown terrain in Turkish literature, he used this technique with great eloquence and prowess. The novel reveals the absurd condition of the particular Tanzimat (Reform) period individuals who were pretending or aspiring to be Westerners. The mocking language used in this novel is another characteristic that sets it apart. The second work where he made use of this approach was the play, Çok Bilen Çok Yanilir, which was closer to the comedy form.

Ekrem died on January 31, 1914 in Istanbul.

The Works of Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem:

Poetry: Nagme-i Seher (Melody of Dawn 1871), Yâdigar-i Sebâb (Memento of Youth 1873), Zemzeme (Sweet Melody 1882), Zemzeme II (Sweet Melody II 1883), Sirket-i Mürettibiye (The Company of Typesetters 1884), Tefekkür (Mind 1886), Pejmürde (Shabby 1894), Nijad Ekrem (1901), and Nefrin (1914).

Plays: Afife Anjelik (The Honest Angélique 1870), Atala (Adapted from Chateaubriand, 1872), Vuslat Yahut Süreksiz Sevinç (Reunion or Short Lived Joy 1874), and Çok Bilen Çok Yanilir (He who Knows Much, Errs Much 1916).

Stories: Muhsin Bey Yahut Sairligin Hazin Bir Neticesi (Muhsin Bey or the Sad Outcome of Being a Poet 1889), and Semsâ (1896).

Novel: Araba Sevdasi (The Love of Automobile 1896).

* Biographical information concerning Recaizade Mahmut Ekrem has been gathered from Tanzimat'tan Bugüne Edebiyatçilar Ansiklopedisi .

Sources: Bilkent University, Turkish Literature Deparment, Class Notes.

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation.

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