Yahya Kemal Beyatlı

(1884-1958 / Skopje)

Biography of Yahya Kemal Beyatlı

Yahya Kemal Beyatlı poet

Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, born Ahmed Agâh, was a leading Turkish poet and author, as well as a politician and diplomat.

Yahya Kemal was born as Ahmet Âgâh on December 2, 1884 in Skopje, then in the Ottoman Empire. He wrote under pen names such as Agâh Kemal, Esrar, Mehmet Agâh, and Süleyman Sadi. He came from a prominent family, whose roots could be traced back to the Ottoman court, and he was educated at various private schools. As he was about to start his higher education, severe disagreements between his parents kept him away from school for some time. When he tried to return to school, he was turned away because it was too late into the semester. Little did he know that this intermission was to become a major turning point in his life. Yahya Kemal got involved with various anti-regime movements. To avoid getting arrested, he escaped to Paris, France in 1903. During his time abroad, he met important Turkish intellectuals, politicians and writers, who were also exiles. He traveled extensively in Europe, and was exposed to various cultures. He developed a fondness for literature and was influenced by the French romantic movement. He eventually decided that he wanted to write poetry, and he first studied the historical works of French Parnasse poets. Consequently, he sought out a way to revitalize Turkish Divan poetry in order to create smooth and pure poetic lines.

Yahya Kemal’s poetry is influenced by music, because he composed with concepts borrowed from Turkish music. While explaining the inner rhythm of the poetic language, he used musical terms such as Tınnet, which denoted the musical value of the sounds or words that pace a line of poetry. For Yahya Kemal this was the only method for creating internal harmony. He states, "Poetry is akin to music. Poetry is not made of couplets, but poetry is melody." For the most part, he was consistent and practiced what he preached; in his poetry, music and meaning go hand-in-hand.

The central thought that runs through Beyatlı’s poems and prose is that the Turkish nation is fashioned with the sweat and tears of the heartland. Even his love poems featured stylized historical and cultural values. Another peculiarity that can be perceived in Beyatlı’s poetry is the almost feminine sensibility that he displayed towards Islam. His explanation for this is that his father spent very little time with him, and that his first lessons in religion came from long hours spent talking with his mother. Yahya Kemal grew up in a household, where hymns and chants were sung, where values of the past were kept alive, hence in his poems he used religion and esthetics together.

When he returned to Istanbul in 1912, Yahya Kemal was already known as a master poet, and the change of regime in the country provided him with opportunities in various high level governmental positions. Beyatlı became a parliamentarian for the Urfa (1923-1926), Yozgat (1934), Tekirdağ and Istanbul (1943) provinces. After the Surname Law came into effect in 1934, he adopted the surname "Beyatlı".

In 1926, he was appointed ambassador to Warsaw, Poland, where he was until 1929. He served in Lisbon, Portugal as ambassador between 1930 and 1932, fulfilling also Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary service in Madrid, Spain. In 1947, he was appointed as the first Turkish ambassador to Pakistan. But after this assignment, his health got progressively worse, and he returned to Turkey in 1949. His medical condition was never properly diagnosed and his health was never fully restored.

He died on November 1, 1958 in Istanbul, and was laid to rest in the Aşiyan Asri Cemetery.

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