FAZIL HÜSNÜ DAGLARCA
Seçme Siirler * Selected Poems
Translated by Talat Sait Halman
Daglarca and His Poetry
Written by |
Yasar Nabi Nayir
Talat Sait Halman
In the course of a prestigious career which started in 1934 Fazil Hüsnü Daglarca has tried every form of poetry, achieving equally impressive success in the epic genre, in lyric and inspirational verse, in satire, and in the poetry of social criticism. Since he has contributed to Turkish literature a unique aesthetic sensibility, new concepts of substance and form, and an inimitable style, his versatility and originality have been matched by few Turkish literary figures, past or present.
Daglarca is a contemporary master of the poetic art which has served, through the ages, as the principal vehicle of aesthetic expression among the Turks. Turkish poetry has a rich and time- honoured tradition. Its beginnings can be traced back to the eighth century -- not taking into account the few archaic specimens of verse which have come down to us from earlier centuries when the Turks had settled communities and a highly developed civilisation in Central Asia.
Migrating into the Caucasus and the Anatolian peninsula, wave upon wave of Turks embraced Islam from the late ninth to the end of the twelfth centuries. In their new homeland, they adopted a new culture and a new poetic tradition known as "Divan poetry". This tradition, under the dominant influence of Arabic and Persian literatures, produced many great poets whose achievements became the pride of the Turkish nation. Fuzuli (d. 1556), Nef'i (d. 1635), Nabi (d. 1712), Nedim (d. 1730), and Seyh Galib (d. 1799), who were influenced by such Persian predecessors as Sadi (d. 1291) and Hafiz (d. 1391) but also overshadowed by their wide fame, are the most prominent of Turkish classical poets and deserve greater recognition outside of Turkey as the masters of a supremely accomplished tradition of verse.
Alongside Divan verse, indigenous Turkish folk poetry grew into a lasting tradition which is still strong all over Turkey. Classical poets from the thirteenth century onwards used adopted forms, forged a hybrid vocabulary, and perpetuated their stereotypes. In contrast, folk poets based their own aesthetics on native forms and vernacular. It was the oral literature of the minstrels that was to embody the quintessential voice of the Turkish folk genius. The immortal mystic poet Yunus Emre (d. ca 1320) and the troubadour Karacaoglan are the unsurpassed masters of the folk tradition.
Poetry, like wrestling, has always held a major place in Turkish life. Today, as in all previous centuries, practically every Turkish village has a folk poet or two. These minstrels read well- known poems or extemporise their own lyrics to musical accompaniment. Many of their improvised poems are comments on current events. Despite the intrusions of the radio and the daily newspapers into village life, some of these folk poets have remained popular, and a few have achieved nationwide renown.
While folk poetry continues to fire the imagination of the Turks, the classical poetry of the educated elite of the Ottoman Empire, after attaining its highest points in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, deteriorated over the next two centuries, and finally, aside from some dribblings of pastiche, became a matter of mere historic interest.
The era of Tanzimat (Reforms), introduced in 1839, opened up the Islamic Ottoman-Turkish Empire to the technology and the cultural influences of Christian Europe. Once the tightly shut doors were flung open, Western intellectual and literary currents entered. Turkish literature and scholarship were soon caught in the floodtide.
Divan literature had first flourished and then foundered on an aesthetics uncannily similar to Abbe Bremond's "pure poetry" theories. It emphasised abstractness, which the East had discovered and developed to perfection long before the Western world. It was a symbiosis of conceits and images with verbal euphony. Classical poets produced many superb specimens of abstract poetry. But the Divan aesthetics had little interaction with real life; its forms and values remained static, and it atrophied because of its aversion to innovation.
In the nineteenth century, classical modes and moulds were dying a natural death while European influences gave Turkish literature a new spurt of vitality. There emerged at the beginning inept dilettantish examples of verse written in European forms but expressing a hybrid Oriental- Occidental world-view. As a result, Turkish poetry, as a synthesis of two alien influences, entered into a transition period which was to last too long. The period nurtured no original creative voice because the poets neither abandoned the time-worn Oriental aesthetics nor fully embraced the European norms.
The closing years of the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of Servet-i Fünun literature, named after a periodical of the same name around which some notable poets and authors rallied. This movement brought Turkish poetry closer to European aesthetics, but concocted a language even more obscure than the artificial vocabulary of Divan poetry, and consequently failed to reach the public. Although such important figures as Tevfik Fikret (d. 1915), Cenap Sehabettin (d. 1934), and Abdülhak Hamit Tarhan (d. 1937) were involved in the new orientation, Servet-i Fünun poetry vanished from the scene without leaving its imprint on modern Turkish verse.
In the early years of the twentieth century, a nationalist movement, which started in Salonica and spread to Istanbul, sought to create a national literature using a "pure Turkish" free of borrowed words. A flawless fluency of the vernacular was never achieved, and the movement did not attain its goals because of the flimsy talents of its protagonists -- Ziya Gökalp, Mehmet Emin Yurdakul, Ali Canip Yöntem, Yusuf Ziya Ortaç, and Orhan Seyfi Orhon. Nevertheless, these men of letters exerted a healthy influence in purifying the literary language. In terms of a valid and viable impact on poetry itself, two other poets, Ahmet Hasim (d. 1933) and Yahya Kemal Beyatli (d. 1958), who understood and assimilated European influences in an integral way, succeeded substantially in expanding the frontiers of Turkish aesthetics.
Turkish poetry achieved its full national character and sovereignty after the emergence of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Under the aegis of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, modern Turkey introduced many sweeping social changes in quick succession: religious schools were closed, Arabic and Persian instruction were cancelled and the teaching of European languages was accelerated, and the Arabic script was replaced by the Latin alphabet. The government initiated a plan of action designed to rid the language of foreign borrowings and gave impetus to national identity and wide public participation in all spheres of activity. The new social and cultural climate stimulated innovations in poetry. Indigenous elements came to the fore while nationalist concepts sought to drive out the religious context of traditional verse. A new poetry emerged with its own unique content and style and a range as wide as the varieties of the aesthetic leanings of individual poets.
Among those poets who have gained prominence since 1923 -- Nazim Hikmet Ran (1902-1963) and Necip Fazil Kisakurek (1905- ), Ahmet Kutsi Tecer (1901-1966) and Ahmet Muhip Dranas (1909- ), Cahit Sitki Taranci (1910-1956) and Orhan Veli Kanik (1914-1950), Cahit Külebi (1917- ) and Necati Cumali (1921- ) -- the disparities are far greater than similarities. In terms of quality and quantity and diversity, the era of the Republic may be called the golden age of Turkish poetry. Modern Turkey continues to cherish its poetic accomplishments, and poetry enjoys wide popularity in Turkey today. It is quite significant, for instance, that the complete works of Taranci (1910-1956) and Kanik (1914-1950), published posthumously, have already gone through ten printings, which is an impressive record even for the most famous novels.
The roster of distinguished poets who have won fame during the past five decades is quite long. In addition to the names already cited, mention must be made of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (1901- 1961), Ziya Osman Saba (1910-1957), and Bedri Rahmi Eyüboglu (1913- ). There have also been many first-rate poets born after 1914. Of the present list, only a thirteen-year span separates the oldest -- Ran and Tanpinar (both born in 1901) and the youngest -- Kanik and Daglarca (both born in 1914) -- of the great elder figures of poetry in the Turkish Republic. Although these poets obviously belong in the same generation, they are so diverse in form and substance that they should not be classed together.
Fazil Hüsnü Daglarca defies inclusion in any poetic school or movement. He stands alone, unique unto himself. Partly because of this, he did not achieve full recognition until past the age of thirty and after having published five books, whereas his contemporaries Taranci and Kanik were already famous at twenty-five. His relatively slow rise to fame resulted perhaps from his innovations which, although not too drastic, had a far more unsettling effect than the changes introduced by most of the other modern poets.
An inquiry into the major influences on Daglarca's poetry is as formidable a task as a comprehensive survey of his art. It would be futile to attempt to find the effects of any poet or movement on him. Just as he owes nothing to his predecessors, he shares none of the essential features of his major contemporaries; Taranci's formal elegance and classical clarity, Kanik's humour and satire, Eyuboglu's bravura, or Saba's timorous simplicity. Those obsessed with detecting some influence or other have been able to point to only a few elements in Daglarca's early work slightly reminiscent of Necip Fazil Kisakurek's themes and style, but such elements are merely trivial similarities which found their way into Daglarca's poems when he was still groping for his own directions.
Daglarca was born in Istanbul in 1914 soon after the outbreak of World War I. He was the fifth child of an army officer of modest means. He completed his higher education at a military college and received his commission as a second lieutenant in 1935. His first book of poems came out on the day of his graduation, but he had been publishing poems in various literary magazines since 1933.
During the years when Daglarca made his unobtrusive entry into Turkish literature, few translations or surveys of world poetry were being published, and Daglarca himself learned no foreign languages. Therefore, it would be senseless to speak of any foreign influences on him. All of the critics who have studied Daglarca's progress concede that, even in his formative years, he had a remarkably mature literary taste and a highly developed individuality and originality.
Havaya Çizilen Dünya (A World Sketched on Air), Daglarca's first book, ushered in a new voice and a new manner despite the hesitancies and the awkward diction of a beginner. Daglarca characterises the book as incipient intuition which sheds light on his later work. It could also be described as a seed which carried his entire poetry in germinative form.
The wider dimensions of Daglarca's personality emerge in his second book, Çocuk ve Allah (Child and God), published in 1940. This collection is typical of his entire career and serves as the base on which he built his monument. Çocuk ve Allah contains the basic elements of Daglarca's psychological makeup. Its major theme is man's amazement at nature - at the entire universe. It expresses the psychological predicament of a child who constantly asks questions and gropes for answers while admiring and fearing the objects and the phenomena which confront him.
Daglarca summarises Çocuk ve Allah as "man reaching out into the two outermost points, child and God." The most recurrent terms and themes in the book are, in fact, "God" and "child". God deepens the poet's consternation at the face of the universe. What is eternity, where does it come from? "From God" is a frustrating answer because it can only lead to a different phrasing of the same question: "What is God?" Pitted against this mystery, there is the appearance of the child, who is the first revelation of this enigma called man. The child carries in him all the attributes of man who has been created in God's image. Nature and time also figure prominently in Çocuk ve Allah, and are woven into the poems in astonishing ways.
In a poem entitled "World Without Action", Daglarca expresses the impotence he feels in striving to comprehend the relationship between God and the universe:
In "Country Without a Moment", he expands the frontiers of his metaphysics:
Time, space and God thus become inextricably intertwined and transform the poet's metaphysical inquiry into an equation with three unknowns. Like a visionary, Daglarca sees the emergence of God's existence as an evolutionary holocaust.
Although God's name frequently occurs and God appears as a recurrent theme, Daglarca offers no elucidation of the nature of his relationship with God.The reader gets the impression, perhaps unjustifiably, that Daglarca is in a frantic search for God because of a personal crisis of faith arising from the conflict between the pressure of the dogmas which have persisted since his childhood and the urge he feels to resolve the tantalising mysteries of the universe by linking them to natural causes.
Daglarca depicts a world of miracles where anything is possible. All things cease to exist, and come into being again. Daglarca roams through time and space like a seasoned traveller:
Daglarca's theology shows some of the implicit and explicit traces of the mystic philosophy of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi (d. 1273) and Yunus Emre (d. ca. 1320), who believed in the unity of God and the universe and explained God in terms of the revelation of love. However, the disparities between Daglarca and the traditional mystic poets outweigh the similarities.
Çocuk ve Allah features optimistic poems full of calm and peace. Daglarca's private world is free of protest and rebellion. In his youthful soul, there is little agony in the face of evil or dishonesty, ugliness, or injustice. These early poems present to the reader a hale and hearty soul ready to embrace God and the universe, the world and mankind.
Love for mother and sister, for child and school is, for the poet, a transition to love for man and God. In later years, Daglarca was to replace these personal loves with his concern for all men and particularly for the poor, the underprivileged and the abandoned. His spiritual odyssey began in the optimism created by the captivating and exalting milieu of Ataturk's presidency when the great leader inspired faith and confidence in the whole nation, but eventually turned into pessimism and rebellion because of the plight of Turkey's forgotten people.
Çocuk ve Allah vibrates with euphoria. It is a dream world where images are tangled and emotions remain elusive and indeterminate. This is the poetry of dreams as words - or words from dreams. It has no set topics, no narrow framework of thought, no realism or didactic elements. Some of the poems seem to conform to the basic precept of the "gazel" (the most common lyric form in all Islamic literature), which pays no attention to the unity of theme or topic and often consists of independent couplets. The poems in Çocuk ve Allah frequently lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations. The abstractions they embody offer vast possibilities of extension. In my opinion, we owe this majestic masterpiece featuring 198 poems and Daglarca's later prolific contributions, at least in part, to this particular norm and structure of verse.
In these lyrics of happiness and admiration, these paeans to life, certain critics have detected an aura of French symbolism and surrealism. Many of them, however, have hastened to observe that Daglarca did not come under the influence of these movements, but he laid the foundations of a new Turkish surrealism almost by intuition, perhaps even unwittingly. It must be noted, for instance, that in Çocuk ve Allah we find none of the distortions of form, meaning and language characteristic of French surrealism. Only in his later work has Daglarca offered a few extreme instances of surrealist poetry, but obscurantism or distortions have never become typical of his work or an essential feature of his poetic art.
The year 1943 saw the publication of Daha (More), which Daglarca describes as having taken "the mighty individual as the axis of the universe." Çakirin Destani (The Epic of Çakir) followed in 1945. Daglarca summarises this book as "the story of observing the individual in his society and of abandoning the individual for the sake of the community." The same year he also published Tas Devri (The Stone Age) which, in the poet's words, shows how "ancient men touched on nature with their first words." These three books were overshadowed by Çocuk ve Allah and received less attention than they deserved. They constituted, however, a period of preparation for a new elan.
Çakirin Destani marks Daglarca's entry into the epic genre, which was to prove fertile ground for his heroic voice. This particular epic, however, charts the adventures of "a little man" who views life with consternation. Here we find Daglarca's inquiries into life's secrets. The epic consists of a cycle of individual, untitled poems, each one presented with a prefatory line which does not necessarily explain the poem. Structurally the cycle is notable for achieving an epic unity although it does not follow the conventions of the epic genre.
-- He loved to drive amid the crowdsIn my thoughts, white mingles with my purity.
In one of the closing poems, which appears under the prefatory line "On census day they counted Çakir too," Daglarca delineates the plight of the ill-fated, poverty-stricken people whose predicaments and aspirations are ignored once their numbers are entered into the census records. The final poem, under the heading "Now he could hear the world's song," is a moving plea spoken by Çakir, who is the child of a nation that has suffered intensely and faced countless insults and injustices:
In Tas Devri, Daglarca continues his inquiries into man and nature. Here the vantage point is different. The poet's imagination reverts to the time when man first acquired consciousness and captures in poetry the early efforts of Stone Age man to discover nature.
The first truly great work in Daglarca's series of epics is Üç Sehitler Destani (The Epic of the Three Martyrs), which came out in 1949. It is a paean to the heroic spirit of the Turks during their fight for national liberation. Since 1911, Turks had repeatedly suffered defeat in devastating wars, surrendered much of their fertile lands, and lost their leaders and intellectuals. The Ottoman Empire, after a protracted period of decline, was teetering on the verge of collapse. When the nation was confronted with the prospect of losing its independence, Ataturk emerged as its last hope and he achieved astounding success in reversing his nation's "adverse fortune," as he called it. Turkey had come out of World War I exhausted, its weapons confiscated. Under Ataturk's leadership, the Turks fought tooth and nail, driving the enemy into the sea, and achieved full independence. This miraculous victory after a life-and-death struggle gave the world's oppressed nations their first lesson in national liberation. Generations of Turks, therefore, have felt profound love and gratitude for the great soldier who made "The Turkish Miracle" possible. Daglarca's epic poems celebrate the heroic spirit of his nation and the victories achieved under Ataturk's leadership.
The Epic of the Three Martyrs is the first phase of a cycle of epics. It depicts a minor episode in the War of Independence (1919-1922) -- the battle for the Hill of the Three Martyrs, which was to have a strong impact on the outcome of the war. It is a poignant story of how a crucial strategic hill changed hands and was finally taken by the Turks from the Greek army, which had assumed it could breeze through Anatolia under the protection of the Allies.
The epic consists of individual poems which can be read independently. At the same time, the poems follow the chronological sequence of events, and taken together they constitute a unity of theme, narration, and style. This form, also used in Daglarca's later epics, avoids the tedium of long, continuous epics and verse narratives. With Three Martyrs, Daglarca gave us one of his most impressive works and introduced a new epic form. In it the poet speaks the vernacular and the dialects of the Anatolian peasant and gives voice to his indomitable spirit and mighty faith. In one of his pithy stanzas, he sums up the victory of the butt against more destructive weapons:
Daglarca's early works are notable for the joys and pleasures of life they express. A poem in Aç Yazi (Hungry Writing), for instance, asks: "How can a man ever die / When living is so lovely?" But the cheerfulness of Daglarca's youthful years did not last. Increasingly since 1950, particularly since the Turkish Revolution of 1960, he has grown despondent over developments in Turkey and in the world. Because he has come to feel that intellectuals have failed in contributing to progress and justice, he has decided to place his verse at the service of the vanguard against the evils of social and economic inequality. The obstacles which have been put in his path have only spurred his efforts, causing him to denounce social evils and ills with greater vigour and sometimes in extreme terms.
Toprak Ana (mother Earth), published in 1950 , was the first work to come out of Daglarca's new concept of civic responsibility. Among his works, Toprak Ana holds a unique and significant place and stands as a turning-point on his way to social realism. It tells of the plight of the villages, and voices the inner world of the poverty-stricken peasant. In tragic and satiric terms, it exposes Turkey's entrenched social and economic problems, but never lapses into the pitfall of rhetoric. The poetic effects are genuine, the formal structure is stalwart from beginning to end, and the lyricism perfectly attuned to the diction of the villager.
The tragic themes and scenes of Toprak Ana are of isolated, ill-fated villages without light or water, roads or communications -- where children perish because of lack of food and medicine, where people are scorched in summer and freeze to death in winter because there are no woods nearby.
Toprak Ana is a magnificent work of art which gives voice to the dark destiny of the Anatolian peasant who for centuries was squandered on the battlefronts for the sake of an Empire from whose wealth he never received any benefits. It is the tragic story of bloody feuds resulting from ignorance, of drought and skimpy crops, of destitution and abject poverty, of the hardships endured by the ox which, as the peasant's best friend, toils with its blood and flesh, of sick peasants who perish on mountain roads on their way to a physician. This book contains one of the monumental poems of the Turkish language, "Kizilirmak Kiyilari" ("Banks of the Red River"), from which I would like to quote one section:
Aç Yazi (Hungry Writing), published in 1951, is a reversion to optimism and to love of life. Perhaps Daglarca had felt the fatigue of voicing social problems and once again gave free rein to his poetic intuitions and his own inner world. Although he claims "I don't want the old dreams / Even if they are whiter than I," he perpetuates his old dreams in Aç Yazi. He is still preoccupied with man's fate:
Included in this volume is one of Daglarca's loveliest poems -- "Geçen Sey" ("In Passage") -- written with the deft hand of a miniature painter:
Responding to the success of The Epic of the Three Martyrs, Daglarca produced another epic spanning a much longer period of the War of Independence. It came out in two volumes, Samsun'dan Ankara'ya (From Samsun to Ankara) and Inönüler (The Inonu Battles), both published in 1951 under the combined title of Istiklal Savasi (The War of Independence). This long "historical poem", like Three Martyrs, consisted of a series of short lyrics, but because the poet overemphasised chronology and the historical framework, his didactic purpose lessened the aesthetic impact. Because of this shortcoming, The War of Independence fails to attain the artistic level of The Epic of the Three Martyrs.
More than ten years later, in 1964 and 1965, Daglarca was to again turn to this important time in Turkish history for two more epics, Yedi Memetler (Seven Heroes) and Çanakkale Destani (The Epic of the Dardanelles). The first is another episode in the poet's continuing saga of the War of Independence. The second is an epic of the war that the Turks fought at the Dardanelles. In Daglarca's own words, "The preface to modern Turkey was written at the Dardanelles in 1915". His epic aims at evoking the national spirit that made the Turkish victory possible.
But for his next epic, Istanbul Fetih Destani (The Epic of the Conquest of Istanbul), published in 1953 on the five-hundredth anniversary of the fall of Constantinople, he turned to a different period in Turkish history. This time Daglarca laid aside the heroics of the war of liberation and took up the emergence of the Ottoman-Turkish Empire. The epic describes how the Turks, who had left Central Asia and eventually invaded vast territories in three continents, wrested Istanbul out of the hands of a moribund Byzantium and, later, how they spread their new faith -- Islam. Their leader was the sagacious young Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, who shunned fanaticism and offered to humanity his ideal of a humanistic world.
During the same period, Daglarca published two small books of poetry: in 1951 Sivasli Karinca (Ant from Sivas), a captivating book featuring eighteen short poems; and in 1953 Anitkabir (Mausoleum), a small collection of poems vibrating with his admiration for the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In Sivasli Karinca, Daglarca turned his eyes away from the destiny of his country and looked at the world at large for the first time. This book is notable for Daglarca's concern for the common fate of mankind and his anguish in the face of rifts between nations.
His next book, Âsû (1955), is a remarkable cornerstone of Daglarca's poetry. In it he introduced massive innovations which have exerted and still exert a wide impact on his contemporaries. According to Daglarca, Âsû is "a book in which man is surveyed within a unified time segment from the present day to the ancient ages. It puts forth a new concept of time." In this book Daglarca carries his innovations of form and language farther than he did in Çocuk ve Allah, or any of his other books for that matter. Âsû is, consequently, more difficult to comprehend and digest. Its obscure features are so dominant that even the poet's own explanation does not give us a real clue. By the same token, Daglarca's preface to the book seems to obfuscate rather than clarify the oblique poems.
The problem starts with the title. What is Âsû? In the preface, Daglarca says: "There is a core." What is this core? He adds: "Let's say it is the world." But is it really the world? What should we make of "There are interlocking circles on the core"? His answer is "Let's say they are the layers of time." This confuses us. Then he says, "Man arrives at a circle by his time and heart." Again we are bewildered. Perhaps we should depend on our feelings and intuitions rather than logic to solve Daglarca's equations.
The preface to Âsû asserts that "Âsû is somewhat Asian." Why? Because the majority of the world's population is Asian? "Âsû is the reason for our civilisation and the essence of our existence." Because civilisation is known to have started in Asia? Further on Daglarca observes: "We are united in some of the circles. The circle of childhood, circle of hunger, circle of death. In some we fall apart: the circle of selfhood." Such a statement does not lend itself to rational understanding. So does the assertion "The man who invented the wheel is equal to the man who split the atom."
But the paradox inherent in "Whoever is night is Âsû, whoever is daylight is more Âsû" remains unresolved. Likewise, there is no rational explanation for "Âsû has the sky in his hands and the earth on his feet," or "All the upheavals of the world are Âsû." The poems in Âsû unfold in the language of enigmas, and they remain as inscrutable as the interpretations provided by the poet himself.
Not all of the 170 poems in Âsû are obscurantist, and the book keeps grammar and syntax intact despite the curious turns of thought and structural oddities. Throughout Âsû, Daglarca is consistently meticulous about internal harmony and never resorts to ugly distortions for their own sake. In this respect Âsû has an affinity with surrealism as well as Mallarme's symbolism.
Âsû contains many poems in praise of human effort and endurance. It is, in a way, a poetic description of mankind's essential life. It delineates, in concrete terms, health and sickness, birth and death, brain and brawn, happiness and hanging. But many of the poems are formulated in abstract terms, sometimes with the use of neologisms, which impede a full understanding of the focal meaning.
Delice Böcek (The Insane Insect), published in 1957, is one of Daglarca's more astonishing works. It tells the story of a frenzied insect which departs in 1919 from Erzurum, where Ataturk laid the groundwork for the War of Independence, and arrives on September 9, 1922, in the city of Izmir, where Ataturk drove the enemy into the sea and won the ultimate victory in his nation's sacred struggle. The insect's odyssey from Erzurum to Izmir parallels the awakening of the Turkish national spirit and the victory against the invading forces. This sounds like an epic. The book itself is an epic and it isn't. Significantly, there is no specific mention of the war. Most of the individual poems are simple lyrics which have no bearing upon history. Delice Böcek invokes the agonising panorama of Anatolia from east to west at the time of the national liberation struggle. The insect allegory is a new approach to the epic genre with unusual abstractions and surrealistic features.
In the early 1950's Daglarca left Turkey for the first time to go to France. He came back with Bati Acisi (The Agony of the West), which recorded his impressions of France and Italy in terms of the sociopolitical aspects of the East-West rift and conflict. The book's opening sections feature lyric poems of sensitive impressions with a sprinkling of abstractions. In subsequent sections, there are vehement denunciations of France and the entire Western world because of the age-old problems of colonialism and exploitation. Daglarca also compares Western imperialism with the Ottoman Empire and, repeating an assertion he first made in The Epic of the Conquest of Istanbul, he declares that the Ottoman Turks never abused or exploited the nations which came under their domination:
After The Agony of the West, Daglarca turned to the Orient with Gezi -- Mevlana'da Olmak (Voyage -- Alive in Mevlana), published in 1958. This collection features quasi-mystic poems which derive their inspiration from Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi (d. 1273), a Turkish mystic poet who wrote in Persian.
His next two books, published in 1960, took very different turns. Hoo'lar (Ho-os) shows further experimentation with obscure meaning and contortions of form, syntax and diction. In its poems, Daglarca explores man's primordial experiences and offers abstract formulations of the mystery of life in communion with nature. The other book of that year, Özgürlük Alani (Freedom Square), expresses Daglarca's excitement over and endorsement of the 1960 Turkish revolution. Similarly, current events in Algeria produced another book the next year -- Cezayir Türküsü (Song of Algeria), which is a lyrical condemnation of the injustice and suffering inflicted on Algeria. The book includes translations of the poem in English, French and Arabic.
Daglarca's twenty-first book, Aylam (Moonlife), came out in 1962. The advent of the space age had been an endless source of excitement for the poet -- freedom from gravity, vehicles landing on the moon, the sky finally yielding all its dark secrets. Aylam (Daglarca's coinage) heralds man's lunar life and his new metaphysics. It is a cluster of dream-poems which shuttle between earthly realities and the cosmic subconscious. Perhaps the oddest poem in Aylam is "Pegu Hos," which consists of fabricated words in a "space language," for which Daglarca has furnished a glossary in seven languages.
Daglarca owns and operates a bookstore in the busy Aksaray district of Istanbul. For several years now he has been hanging on the glass of the windowfront poems on current events. These commentaries in verse appear in huge letters and attract the attention of the many people who pass by. Daglarca has collected several of these "journalistic" poems of social and political criticism in four little books, each containing twelve poems: Türk Olmak (Being a Turk), published in 1963, and Disardan Gazel (A Jarring Song), Kazmalama (Give It the Axe), and Yeryag (Soil Oil), all of which came out in quick succession in 1965. When one of his poems of social protest, "Horoz" ("Rooster") prompted legal action against him, Daglarca became infuriated and turned his invective on his persecutors in a poem entitled "Savci'ya" ("To the Public Prosecutor").
Vietnam Savasimiz (Our Vietnam War), published in 1966, is a series of poems, essentially in Daglarca's epic genre. Giving voice to mounting anti-American feeling among the Turkish people, particularly among the youth, because of Turkish aversion to major power interference or imperialist oppression in small nations, Daglarca expresses in his Vietnam poems his compassion for the lamentable fate of a country which has become a colonial marketplace and a theatre of military action for Western capitalism. In depicting the tragedies of the war and denouncing United States involvement in the Vietnamese struggle, Daglarca has used public statements and testimonies, Vietnamese folk tunes, and items from the daily press as integral parts of the poems.
The Turkish community of the Yugoslav city of Skopje published in 1967 a book featuring Daglarca's poetry for children, some of it new, some of it previously published. Entitled Açil Susam Açil (Open, Sesame, Open), this book is a testament of Daglarca's continuing affinity with the human and metaphysical aspects of the child's world.
In 1968 Daglarca published his latest epic, Kubilay Destani (The Epic of Kubilay). Kubilay is the name of a young teacher who, while serving as a reserve officer in the town of Menemen, was assassinated in 1930 by a pack of ignorant fanatics who were hell-bent to destroy the progressive nationalists and create a theocratic state. Daglarca eulogises Kubilay, for whom the Turkish Republic erected a monument where he was assassinated and whose martyrdom is commemorated by annual ceremonies, as a symbol of the young Turk's allegiance to the revolutionary spirit, freedom, and justice. Kubilay epitomises the young generations of Turkey to whom Ataturk entrusted his achievements. Because many groups of zealots in today's Turkey are violently opposed to the progressive Kemalist forces, Daglarca's latest epic has a special significance and cogency, although the book leaves something to be desired in aesthetic terms.
Throughout his career, Daglarca has been remarkably prolific. The latest testament to his profuse talents is a book entitled Haydi (Come On) which features 1243 quatrains. Arranged in the alphabetical order of the first words of the quatrains, Haydi is a sort of dictionary in verse.
The critical evaluation of Daglarca's work since the late 1930's has not been equal to his stature and significance. The quantity and quality of his poetry will require years of arduous effort by critics in order to elucidate all the subtleties and obscurities. So far no critic has undertaken a comprehensive or in-depth assessment of Daglarca's poetic art.
In a general reference to Daglarca's poetry, Professor Mehmed Kaplan has observed: "His essential sensibility consists of the relationship between man and the cosmos. Daglarca, as a military man, spent a good part of his life in the wilderness and on the mountains and became close friends with the stars whose plea he heard at close range at night ... No other poet in Turkish literature has felt the man-cosmos relationship as profoundly as Daglarca nor has anyone expressed it in the same rich images and majestic metaphors." In my opinion, this is only one of the frontiers which Daglarca has opened up, not a prevalent feature of his poetry. The vast spectrum of his art cannot be reduced to one such theme.
Cemal Süreya, an outstanding contemporary poet, asserts that there have been two distinctive periods in Daglarca's poetic career: "I can see two phases in Daglarca's poetry. First: intuitive period. Second: rational period. A World Sketched on Air, Child and God, More, The Epic of Çakir, and The Stone Age, published between 1935 and 1945, are the product of the first period. The second period, starting with Âsû in 1955, has continued to the present day. The poetry he published between 1945 and 1955 is of a transitional character: The Epic of the Three Martyrs, Mother Earth, Hungry Writing, Ant from Sivas, Mausoleum, and The Epic of the Conquest of Istanbul."
I do not share Cemal Süreya's "categories" of Daglarca's poetry. At best, we can observe that since 1945 Daglarca's Weltanschauung has expanded and, as a result, the poet has consciously produced many verses of social criticism and protest. Such an observation, however, should not make us oblivious to the fact that Daglarca has continued his "intuitive" poetry throughout his entire career. With wide innovations and impressive metamorphoses, Daglarca's poetry has been notable for its continuity and organic unity.
In the early 1950's, Nurullah Ataç, Turkey's foremost literary critic, heralded the emergence of Daglarca as a great poet in the following words: His diction is unfamiliar -- neither bookish nor colloquial. It's different. And because it's different, we find it peculiar and fail to see its beauty and strength. In fact, we are unable to understand Mr. Daglarca's verse at first glance, because we find in it neither the components we are accustomed to nor their antitheses. In my opinion, Mr. Daglarca is not only one of the excellent and significant poets of our age but also a poet who has introduced a new mentality and who will create the modern man." Even Ataç has found Daglarca's poetry difficult to understand and evaluate. This was the principal reason why he and other critics waited for Daglarca's work to assume its impressive stature before they announced their judgement of greatness. Since the early 1950's, when Ataç wrote about Daglarca, critical evaluations reflect the same bafflement. Interpretations are neither enlightening nor precise. To this day, Daglarca criticism has remained inadequate.
But in spite of any "confusion" on the part of critics, Daglarca's impact on his younger contemporaries has been immense. Although his style is inimitable and his stature remains unsurpassed, scores of talented young poets, regardless of whether they like his aesthetics or not, have consciously or unwittingly come under his pervasive influence. In fact, it would be impossible to name any other poet whose impact on contemporary Turkish poetry has been as potent as Daglarca's.
Yasar Nabi Nayir
Translated by Talat Sait Halman