Behçet Necatigil


A poet, translator, playwright and Hilmi Yavuz’s literature teacher in high school, Behçet Necatigil wore more than one hat on the Turkish literary scene. He argued that modern Turkish poetry should be nurtured by the ageless essence of the folk poetry, Ottoman classical poetry and mystical poetry. However his poetry never mimicked the archaic forms of classical poetry and always located itself in the realm of modern poetry and forms. The core theme of his poetry was mundane lives and ordinary people; his way of expression was simple as he always aimed to express the most using the least words. Nevertheless it never meant that his poetry was simple or superficial. On the contrary, he managed to construct poems with remarkable semantic intensity. He invited his reader to strive to grasp the meaning, sometimes by exploring the allegories and sometimes by filling the intentional gaps in the poems. 


‘Abdal’ (‘Dervish’), is not exceptional in Necatigil’s poetic oeuvre. The mystical protagonist of the poem wanders through the streets of a modern-day city in search of a meaning. Despite its simplicity, the semantic strata can be untangled by a knowledgeable reader of three different traditions: the Ottoman literary mystic tradition, Greek mythology and romantic expressionism. The poem is discussed by Neslihan Demirkol and Mehmet Kalpakı in their chapter ‘The New Image of the Beloved in the Old Mirror: Reflections on the Neoplatonic Tradition in Modern Turkish Poetry’ (see FoI444-6).

‘Çirkinleme’ (‘Turning Ugly’)

‘Çirkinleme’ (‘Turning Ugly’) was never published in any of Necatigil’s poetry collections. He published it in Yeni Dergi in November 1972. The poem reflects Necatigil’s plain but semantically deep style. In the poem, we observe that the position of the mirror in the modern age contradicts the common perception of the mirror as a symbol in mystic poetry. Whereas in mystic poetry the mirror reflects the beauty of the beloved and the truth, in this poem it not only reflects but also magnifies the ugliness of the protagonist. In modern times, not even a mirror provides comfort to the soul of the ordinary being. 

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Behçet Necatigil, ‘Abdal’, in A. Tanyeri & H. Yavuz (eds) (2009), Bütün Yapıtları / Şiirler (İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları), 212. English translation by © Walter G. Andrews in Kemal Sılay (ed.) (1996),  An Anthology of Turkish Literature ( Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Turkish Studies), 478–9.

Behçet Necatigil, ‘Çirkinleme’, in A. Tanyeri & H. Yavuz (eds) (2009) Bütün Yapıtları / Şiirler, (Istanbul, Yapı Kredi Yayınları), 277. English translation by © by Neslihan Demirkol and Mehmet Kalpaklı.