Turkish literature is the collection of written and oral texts composed in the Turkish language, either in its Ottoman form or in less exclusively literary forms, such as that spoken in the Republic of Turkey today. Traditional examples for Turkish folk literature include stories of Karagöz and Hacivat, Keloğlan, İncili Çavuş and Nasreddin Hoca, as well as the works of folk poets such as Yunus Emre and Aşık Veysel. The Book of Dede Korkut and the Epic of Köroğlu have been the main elements of the Turkish epic tradition in Anatolia for several centuries.
The two primary streams of Ottoman literature were poetry and prose. Of the two, the Ottoman Divan poetry, a highly ritualized and symbolic art form, was the dominant stream. The vast majority of Divan poetry was lyric in nature: either ghazals or qasidas. There were, however, other common genres, most particularly the mathnawi (also known as mesnevî), a kind of verse romance and thus a variety of narrative poetry. The tradition of Ottoman prose was exclusively non-fictional in nature; as the fiction tradition was limited to narrative poetry.
The Tanzimat reforms of 1839–1876 brought changes to the language of Ottoman written literature, and introduced previously unknown Western genres, primarily the novel and the short story. Many of the writers in the Tanzimat period wrote in several different genres simultaneously: for instance, the poet Nâmık Kemal also wrote the important 1876 novel İntibâh (Awakening), while the journalist Şinasi is noted for writing, in 1860, the first modern Turkish play, the one-act comedy “Şair Evlenmesi” (The Poet’s Marriage). Most of the roots of modern Turkish literature were formed between the years 1896 and 1923. Broadly, there were three primary literary movements during this period: the Edebiyyât-ı Cedîde (New Literature) movement; the Fecr-i Âtî (Dawn of the Future) movement; and the Millî Edebiyyât (National Literature) movement. The Edebiyyât-ı Cedîde (New Literature) movement began with the founding in 1891 of the magazine Servet-i Fünûn (Scientific Wealth), which was largely devoted to progress (both intellectual and scientific) along the Western model. Accordingly, the magazine’s literary ventures, under the direction of the poet Tevfik Fikret, were geared towards creating a Western-style “high art” in Turkey.
The folk poetry as indicated above, was strongly influenced by the Islamic Sunni and Shi’a traditions. Furthermore, as partly evidenced by the prevalence of the still existent ashik (“aşık” or “ozan”) tradition, the dominant element in Turkish folk poetry has always been song. The development of folk poetry in Turkish—which began to emerge in the 13th century with such important writers as Yunus Emre, Sultan Veled, and Şeyyâd Hamza—was given a great boost when, on 13 May 1277, Karamanoğlu Mehmet Bey declared Turkish the official state language of Anatolia’s powerful Karamanid state; subsequently, many of the tradition’s greatest poets would continue to emerge from this region.
There are, broadly speaking, two traditions of Turkish folk poetries;
Much of the poetry and song of the aşık/ozan tradition, being almost exclusively oral until the 19th century, remains anonymous. There are, however, a few well-known aşıks from before that time whose names have survived together with their works: the aforementioned Köroğlu (16th century); Karacaoğlan (1606?–1689?), who may be the best-known of the pre-19th century aşıks; Dadaloğlu (1785?–1868?), who was one of the last of the great aşıks before the tradition began to dwindle somewhat in the late 19th century; and several others. The aşıks were essentially minstrels who travelled through Anatolia performing their songs on the bağlama, a mandolin-like instrument whose paired strings are considered to have a symbolic religious significance in Alevi/Bektashi culture. Despite the decline of the aşık/ozan tradition in the 19th century, it experienced a significant revival in the 20th century thanks to such outstanding figures as Aşık Veysel Şatıroğlu (1894–1973), Aşık Mahzuni Şerif (1938–2002), Neşet Ertaş (1938–2012), and many others.
In the early years of the Republic of Turkey, there were a number of poetic trends. Authors such as Ahmed Hâşim and Yahyâ Kemâl Beyatlı (1884–1958) continued to write important formal verse whose language was, to a great extent, a continuation of the late Ottoman tradition. By far the majority of the poetry of the time, however, was in the tradition of the folk-inspired “syllabist” movement (Five Syllabists or Beş Hececiler), which had emerged from the National Literature movement and which tended to express patriotic themes couched in the syllabic meter associated with Turkish folk poetry.
The first radical step away from this trend was taken by Nâzım Hikmet, who—during his time as a student in the Soviet Union from 1921 to 1924—was exposed to the modernist poetry of Vladimir Mayakovsky and others, which inspired him to start writing verse in a less formal style.
Orhan Veli Kanık was the founder of the Garip Movement in Turkish poetry.
Another revolution in Turkish poetry came about in 1941 with the publication of a small volume of verse preceded by an essay and entitled Garip (meaning both “miserable” and “strange”). The authors were Orhan Veli Kanık (1914–1950), Melih Cevdet Anday (1915–2002), and Oktay Rifat (1914–1988). Explicitly opposing themselves to everything that had gone in poetry before, they sought instead to create a popular art, “to explore the people’s tastes, to determine them, and to make them reign supreme over art”. To this end, and inspired in part by contemporary French poets like Jacques Prévert, they employed not only a variant of the free verse introduced by Nâzım Hikmet, but also highly colloquial language, and wrote primarily about mundane daily subjects and the ordinary man on the street. The reaction was immediate and polarized: most of the academic establishment and older poets vilified them, while much of the Turkish population embraced them wholeheartedly.
Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca was one of the most prolific Turkish poets of the Turkish Republic with more than 60 collections of his poems published, laureate of the Struga Poetry Evenings Golden Wreath Award.
Just as the Garip movement was a reaction against earlier poetry, so—in the 1950s and afterwards—was there a reaction against the Garip movement. The poets of this movement, soon known as İkinci Yeni (“Second New”), opposed themselves to the social aspects prevalent in the poetry of Nâzım Hikmet and the Garip poets, and instead—partly inspired by the disruption of language in such Western movements as Dada and Surrealism—sought to create a more abstract poetry through the use of jarring and unexpected language, complex images, and the association of ideas. To some extent, the movement can be seen as bearing some of the characteristics of postmodern literature. The best-known poets writing in the “Second New” vein were Turgut Uyar (1927–1985), Edip Cansever (1928–1986), Cemal Süreya (1931–1990), Ece Ayhan (1931–2002), and İlhan Berk (1918–2008).
Outside of the Garip and “Second New” movements also, a number of significant poets have flourished, such as Fazıl Hüsnü Dağlarca (1914–2008), who wrote poems dealing with fundamental concepts like life, death, God, time, and the cosmos; Behçet Necatigil (1916–1979), whose somewhat allegorical poems explore the significance of middle-class daily life; Can Yücel (1926–1999), who—in addition to his own highly colloquial and varied poetry—was also a translator into Turkish of a variety of world literature; and İsmet Özel (1944– ), whose early poetry was highly leftist but whose poetry since the 1970s has shown a strong mystical and even Islamist influence.