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This article deals with the Ottoman Divan poetry tradition. For the tradition of folk poetry in the Ottoman Empire, see Turkish folk literature.

The poetry of the Ottoman Empire, or Ottoman Divan poetry, is fairly little known outside of modern Turkey, which forms the heartland of what was once the Ottoman Empire. It is, however, a rich and ancient poetic tradition that lasted for nearly 700 years, and one whose influence can still—to some extent—be felt in the modern Turkish poetic tradition.

Even in modern Turkey, however, Ottoman Divan poetry is a highly specialist subject. Much of this has to do with the fact that Divan poetry is written in Ottoman Turkish, was written using a variant of the Arabic script, and is as vastly different from the Turkish language of today as it was from the standard spoken Turkish of its own day.


The Ottoman Divan poetry tradition embraced the influence of the Persian and, to a lesser extent, Arabic literatures. As far back as the pre-Ottoman Seljuk period in the late 11th to early 14th centuries CE, this influence was already being felt: the Seljuks conducted their official business in the Persian language, rather than in Turkish, and the poetry of the Seljuk court was highly inflected with Persian.

When the Ottoman Empire arose in northwestern Anatolia, it continued this tradition. The most common poetic forms of the Ottoman court, for instance, were derived either directly from the Persian literary tradition (the gazel; the mesnevî), or indirectly through Persian from the Arabic (the kasîde). However, the decision to adopt these poetic forms wholesale led to two important further consequences:[1]

  • the poetic meters (Persian: beher; Turkish: aruz) of Persian poetry were adopted
  • Persian- and Arabic-based words were brought into the Turkish language in great numbers, as Turkish words rarely worked well within the system of Persian poetic meter

Out of this confluence of choices, the Ottoman Turkish language—which was always highly distinct from standard Turkish—was effectively born. This style of writing under Persian and Arabic influence came to be known as "Divan literature" (Turkish divân edebiyatı), as divân was the Ottoman Turkish word referring to the collected works of a poet.

Beginning with the Tanzimat reform period (1839–1876) of Ottoman history and continuing until the dissolution of the empire in the early 20th century, the Divan poetic tradition steadily dwindled, and more and more influence from both Turkish folk literature and European literature began to make itself felt.


Main article: Diwan (poetry)

Ottoman Divan poetry was a highly ritualized and symbolic art form. From the Persian poetry that largely inspired it, it inherited a wealth of symbols whose meanings and interrelationships—both of similitude (مراعات نظيرmura'ât-i nazîr / تناسبtenâsüb) and opposition (تضادtezâd)—were more or less prescribed. Examples of prevalent symbols that, to some extent, oppose one another include, among others:

  • the nightingale (بلبلbülbül) — the rose (ﮔلgül)
  • the world (جهانcihan; عالم‘âlem) — the rosegarden (ﮔﻠﺴﺘﺎنgülistan; ﮔﻠﺸﻦgülşen)
  • the ascetic (زاهدzâhid) — the dervish (درويشderviş)

As the opposition of "the ascetic" and "the dervish" suggests, Divan poetry—much like Turkish folk poetry—was heavily influenced by Sufi thought. One of the primary characteristics of Divan poetry, however—as of the Persian poetry before it—was its mingling of the mystical Sufi element with a profane and even erotic element. Thus, the pairing of "the nightingale" and "the rose" simultaneously suggests two different relationships:

  • the relationship between the fervent lover ("the nightingale") and the inconstant beloved ("the rose")
  • the relationship between the individual Sufi practitioner (who is often characterized in Sufism as a lover) and God (who is considered the ultimate source and object of love)

Similarly, "the world" refers simultaneously to the physical world and to this physical world considered as the abode of sorrow and impermanence, while "the rosegarden" refers simultaneously to a literal garden and to the garden of Paradise] "The nightingale", or suffering lover, is often seen as situated—both literally and figuratively—in "the world", while "the rose", or beloved, is seen as being in "the rosegarden".

Divan poetry was composed through the constant juxtaposition of many such images within a strict metrical framework, thus allowing numerous potential meanings to emerge. A brief example is the following line of verse, or mısra (مصراع), by the 18th-century judge]and poet Hayatî Efendi:

بر گل مى وار بو گلشن ﻋالمدﻪ خارسز
Bir gül mü var bu gülşen-i ‘âlemde hârsız[6]
("Does any rose, in this rosegarden world, lack thorns?")

Here, the nightingale is only implied (as being the poet/lover), while the rose, or beloved, is shown to be capable of inflicting pain with its thorns (خارhâr). The world, as a result, is seen as having both positive aspects (it is a rosegarden, and thus analogous to the garden of Paradise) and negative aspects (it is a rosegarden full of thorns, and thus different to the garden of Paradise).

As for the development of Divan poetry over the more than 500 years of its existence, that is—as the Ottomanist Walter G. Andrews points out—a study still in its infancy;[7] clearly defined movements and periods have not yet been decided upon. Early in the history of the tradition, the Persian influence was very strong, but this was mitigated somewhat through the influence of poets such as the Azerbaijani Nesîmî (?–1417?) and the Uyghur Ali Şîr Nevâî (1441–1501), both of whom offered strong arguments for the poetic status of the Turkic languages as against the much-venerated Persian. Partly as a result of such arguments, Divan poetry in its strongest period—from the 16th to the 18th centuries—came to display a unique balance of Persian and Turkish elements, until the Persian influence began to predominate again in the early 19th century.

Turkish poets,(Ottoman and Chagatay), although they had been inspired and influenced by classical Persian poetry, it would be a superficial judgment to consider the former as blind imitators of the latters, as is often done. A limited vocabulary and common technique, and the same world of imagery and subject matter based mainly on Islamic sources were shared by all poets of Islamic literature.[8]

Despite the lack of certainty regarding the stylistic movements and periods of Divan poetry, however, certain highly different styles are clear enough, and can perhaps be seen as exemplified by certain poets:

[1][2]Fuzûlî (1483?–1556), a Divan poet of Turkmen origin*Fuzûlî (1483?–1556); a unique poet who wrote with equal skill in Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, and who came to be as influential in Persian as in Divan poetry

  • Bâkî (1526–1600); a poet of great rhetorical power and linguistic subtlety whose skill in using the pre-established tropes of the Divan tradition is quite representative of the poetry in the time of Süleyman the Magnificent
  • Nef‘î (1570?–1635); a poet considered the master of the kasîde (a kind of panegyric), as well as being known for his harshly satirical poems, which led to hisexecution
  • Nâbî (1642–1712); a poet who wrote a number of socially oriented poems critical of the stagnation period of Ottoman history
  • Nedîm (1681?–1730); a revolutionary poet of the Tulip Era of Ottoman history, who infused the rather élite and abstruse language of Divan poetry with numerous simpler, populist elements
  • Şeyh Gâlib (1757–1799); a poet of the Mevlevî Sufi order whose work is considered the culmination of the highly complex so-called "Indian style" (سبك هندىsebk-i hindî)

The vast majority of Divan poetry was lyric in nature: either gazels (which make up the greatest part of the repertoire of the tradition), or kasîdes. There were, however, other common genres, most particularly the mesnevî, a kind of verse romance and thus a variety of narrative poetry; the two most notable examples of this form are the Leylî vü Mecnun (ليلى و مجنون) of Fuzûlî and the Hüsn ü Aşk (حسن و عشق; "Beauty and Love") of Şeyh Gâlib.


Mesnevi (masnavi) in literary term "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning" is style developed in Persian poetry which Nizami Ganjavi and Jami are the famous poets of type. In Turkic literature first mesnevi was Yusuf Has Hajib's Kutadgu Bilig. Generally social concepts Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, Fuzuli's Leyla ile Mecnun'u, military events, educational concepts such as Yusuf Nabi's Hayriye or related to religion or philosophy such as Mevlana's Masnavi is covered.

A peculiarity of the masnavi of the Ottoman period is that they almost always possess, beneath the literal meaning, a subtle spiritual signification. Many poems, of Mesnevi of Mevlana and the Divan of Aşık Paşha examples of confessedly religious, moral, or mystic but a much larger number are allegorical. To this latter class belong almost all the long romantic mesnevis of the Persian and mid Ottoman poets; in the stories of the loves of Leyla and Mecnun, Yusuf and Zuleykha, Kusrev and Shavin, Suleyman and Ebsal, and a hundred of like kind, can see pictured, if we look beneath the surface, the soul of man for God, or the yearning of the human heart after heavenly light and wisdom. There is not a character introduced into those romances but represents the passion not an incident but has some spiritual meaning. In the history of Iskender, or Alexander, we watch the noble human soul in its struggles against the powers of this world, and, when aided by God and guided by the heavenly wisdom of righteous teachers, its ultimate victory over every earthly passion, and its attainment of that point of divine serenity whence it can look calmly down on all sublunary things.


Kaside is generally about God, religious or government leaders and their values. Most famous poets are Ahmed Paşa, Necati, Bâkî, Nedîm, most importantly Nef'i.


  • Tevhid: About the Unity of God.
  • Münacaat: Prayer to God
  • Naat: About religious leaders and the prophet.
  • Methiye: About the sultan and government leaders.
  • Nesip or teşbib: Nature and environment descriptions.
  • Girizgah: Prelude to the topic.
  • Fahriye: Praising the poet himself
  • Dua: Prayer and well wishing for the subject of the poem

See alsoEdit


  • Gibb, E.J.W. Ottoman Literature: The Poets and Poetry of Turkey. ISBN 0-89875-906-4.
  • Tanpınar, Ahmet Hamdi. 19'uncu Asır Türk Edebiyatı Tarihi. İstanbul: Çağlayan Kitabevi, 1988.


  1. Tanpınar, 2–3

External linksEdit

ar:شعر عثماني nl:Lijst van Turkse literaire schrijvers tr:Divan edebiyatı

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