TEVFIK FIKRET (1867 – 1915)

The Turkish poet Tevfik Fikret, whose real name was Mehmet Tevfik, was born in Istanbul on December 24, 1867. He also wrote under various aliases such as Nazmi Tevfik, Esat Necip, and Tevfik Nazmi. He was the son of a middle class family, and an honor roll student. Fikret started his professional life as a French language teacher at the Lycée de Galatasaray, which was his alma mater.

Fikret is still considered today as one of the most prominent and favorite Turkish poets of all times. It might prove difficult to draw direct connections between Fikret's aptitude for poetry and his education or the authors that influenced him. But his critics have often tried to attribute his astonishing poetic sensibility to his predilection for solitude, and the conscious effort that he made to develop his perception. As a child, Fikret spent long hours in the solitude of his room. This was probably a habit rooted in the long mourning period that he kept after the death of his mother when he was twelve. Yet, the sensible and fragile Fikret did not always take shelter in the safety of the indoors; he would frequently seek solace in nature. He briefly worked as a government employee, but promptly abandoned this line of work as he realized that this was not his calling. He subsequently refused several offers for high-ranking government positions. Many attribute this to great sense of justice and the fact he not believed in merely saving the day.

Fikret's first poem, executed in the divan style, was published on December 31 st 1883, in the paper Tercüman-i Hakikat . He kept publishing poems until 1885. In 1891, the periodical Mirsat published his poem Bahar. As other newspapers and periodicals followed suit, he became one of the better-known poets of his age. Fikret enjoys a privileged status in Turkish literature, as he was responsible for the demystification of the act of composing poetry. Unlike many of his predecessors and contemporaries, he openly stated that poetic composition involved knowledge, aesthetics and philosophy rather than divine inspiration. This was deemed the aesthetic miracle that Fikret offered to Turkish poetry; once seen as a divine chosen by God as his voice, the poet became an ordinary person. Hence the idea that composing poems was a matter of discipline and aesthetics took hold in Turkish literary circles. What the poet needed was a sound literary background, an insight fed by sensibility, a natural aptitude for perception, and aesthetic awareness. Hence, Turkish poetry would no longer be seen to appeal to a small elite group. Even though this influence is not directly perceptible in Fikret's poems, due to the spread and acceptance of this new concept, he nevertheless is seen as a pioneer, breaking path for future poetic movements. Fikret spent a long time composing his poems, and he painstakingly revised them many times until he deemed them perfect. Although Fikret was influenced by French poetry, he always remained open to variety in verse forms. Just like other poets of the era, he had profound knowledge of Turkish music, and while composing his poems he utilized sonic and musical harmony consciously. He would pick vowel and consonant sounds in accordance with the subject matter of the poem, and he made ample use of sonic techniques such as alliteration and assonance. However, in order to make this possible, he frequently resorted to Persian and Arabic words in his poems, making his work quite difficult to understand for the average reader. As a result of this, ironically, Fikret took his place among the poets who appealed to an elite crowd.

Despite all of his talent, as he became older his fragile nature caused him to become more and more ill tempered and he drifted away from people. When the periodical Servet-i Fünun - which he founded and directed - was placed under the surveillance of the oppressive government of the Birinci Mesrutiyet (First Constitutional Monarchy) period, Fikret found this difficult to bear. The smallest disagreement would cause Fikret to become irritable, and to part with his closest friends; he would reject everyone around him. Interestingly, this personality trait proved to be a turning point for Turkish literature, as it accelerated the disbanding of the periodical Servet-i Fünun which was considered a close literary circle. After this break up, Fikret became a complete recluse, and lived all by himself until his death on August 19, 1915.

The Works of Tevfik Fikret:
Poetry: Rubab-i Sikeste (1900), Tarih-i Kadim (Ancient History 1905), Rubabin Cevabi (The Response of Rubab 1911), Haluk'un Defteri (Haluk's Notebook 1911), and Sermin (1914).

* Biographical information concerning Tevfik Fikret has been gathered from Tanzimat'tan Bugüne Edebiyatçilar Ansiklopedisi .

Sources: Akyüz, Kenan. Modern Türk Edebiyatinin Ana Çizgileri , Inkilâp Yayinevi, 1995.

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

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