Neyzen Tevfik

Born in Bodrum on 24 March 1879, this eccentric figure of Turkish literature was in the habit of fashioning whistles and flutes from reeds when he was still a boy. At some point, young Tevfik decided that his preferred instrument was to be the ney, a reed flute that is especially popular in Mevlevi music and for this reason he added the word neyzen?flute-player?before his name and so he is known today. According to Avram Galanti Bodrumlu, a childhood friend of his, Neyzen Tevfik?s music and poetry were inspired by the sea. Certainly there have been few artists whose work demonstrates the close relationship between music and poetry as his does. Neyzen Tevfik was known for his colorful, bohemian lifestyle and for verse that could be savagely caustic in its wit. He often introduced himself as “Neyzen Tevfik, whose three-dimensionality is manifested in his music, his poetry, and his rakı.” His poetry is imbued with social awareness, philosophy, and depth and it invites the reader to partake in a rational, common-sense morality. As a poet, Neyzen Tevfik is unique in the literature of the late Empire and early Republic.

Tevfik learned Persian as a young man, and became a Mevlevi in İzmir. He then moved to Istanbul and continued his Mevlevi practice in Galata and Kasımpaşa. In 1902 he became a Bektashi dervish.

His interest in poetry influenced him into meeting with Mehmet Akif Ersoy. He also visited Egypt for some time between 1908 and 1913.

Neyzen Tevfik’s fame in popular Turkish culture is mainly due to his virtuosity with the ney. Moreover, he was also a heavy drinker while practicing a form of Islam as it was common among Bektashis.He therefore is also a symbol of a clash between the orthodox Islamic doctrine, and the Bektashi order that he was in, as illustrated in the following translation of his writing:

“The disbeliever’s book has neither beginning nor end. A few pages from its middle is all we ever grasp. For religion’s sake and fear of blasphemy we endure woe. Reason cannot perceive where righteousness may go.?

During his lifetime, two books of his work, Hiç (“Nothing”) and Azab-ı Mukaddes (“The Sacred Torment”) were published. Many other anthologies of his poetry and satire were published posthumously. Neyzen Tevfik was also the composer of works of Classical Turkish music. He died in İstanbul on 28 January 1953.

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