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  "Our Profound Loss": Halil Ýnalcýk’s Memories of Talât Sait Halman


There are those great men who shape their age in cultural and governmental life, whose great and unique personalities bring a different aspect to things that have been done and thought.

Talât Halman was one of those personalities. I had known him since 1953; our paths crossed several times over a period of more than half a century. During those encounters, I was able to witness the course of his rich and very active life.

I first met him at Columbia University in New York. I had been invited there in 1953-1954 as a guest professor. At that time, Talât was a student. He was working and trying to complete his education at the same time. Subsequent to this, we did not meet for a number of years, even though Talât was lecturing at various universities in the US on Turkish language and literature, and I also went to America several more times (as many as 8 to 10) to give lectures. Nonetheless, during that time I was hearing about his activities in the US. I knew that Talât was doing major work on Shakespeare, the eternal genius of the English language and its literature. Shakespeare's masterpieces, renowned as the apex of literature throughout the world as well as in Europe, were of course also performed on the Turkish stage. But it was only through Talât Halman that we in Turkey gained the ability to truly know Shakespeare's literary personality, especially his poetry. For this to happen, an exceptional knowledge of language and a profundity of art were necessary. We in this country owe our translations of Shakespeare to Talât's pen. Talât confided to me that he characterized himself as, above all, a poet.

During this time, many significant changes had been taking place in Turkey. In 1971, Talât, as the unique representative of Western culture, was appointed as the first minister to head the newly founded Ministry of Culture. But my close friendship and collaboration with Talât really began in 1998, when he became chair of the Department of Turkish Literature at Bilkent (he became dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Letters in 2005).

I should mention here that Talât and I were among the first guests at the first "intellectual lunches" hosted by the president of Turkey at that time. President Gül was kind enough to express sympathy with us, and brought up various cultural issues for discussion. On one point, I disagreed with Talât Bey. He praised those hotel and restaurant establishments sited on our shoreline that were using Greek names. I cut in and disputed this point, asking, "By doing this, aren't we serving the Greek Megali Idea?" As we left following the luncheon, Talât reminded me that there had also been such exchanges of views and variations in atmosphere during Atatürk’s lunches with intellectuals.

On another occasion, we made a very important decision. Returning from an exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Talât Halman, Hilmi Yavuz, Mehmet Kalpaklý and I were in a cab together. An interesting idea came to me, and I said, "If we could establish an organization where we could meet from time to time to have talks on literature, wouldn’t that be nice?" This project made me so excited that I wrote this stanza at the time:

Mîr-i meclis ţüphe yok Kalpaklý’dýr

Hilmi Yavuz sohbeti revnâklýdýr

Hâli mânâ kânýdýr hem Talat’ýn

Derse Halil kutlu olsun haklýdýr.

Kalpaklý, no doubt, is the head of the banquet
and scintillating is Hilmi Yavuz's chat
and Talât's very state is a fount of substance.
So if Halil says, "Be it auspicious!" -- he's right.

Friends were also excited about the idea, and our first meeting featured a presentation by Prof. Yavuz on Yahya Kemal. But because of new developments in the Department of Turkish Literature and the difficulties of meeting regularly, this forum has not continued. I was planning to talk about Fuzűlî at a future meeting (see some of my research in "Ţair ve Patron"); and Talât Halman, may God rest his soul, was planning to talk about Shakespeare’s poetry. Sadly, this did not come to pass.

I was interested in poetry in my youth, and my close friendship with Talât strengthened when I read my poems to him; he published some of them in his journal (in English). In addition, he was kind enough to write an article in another journal about my poems written in aruz vezni and serbest nazým. He also liked my English poems on "Death" and "My Poplar Tree." I was very affected by his sympathetic closeness to the young poet Halil Ýnalcýk and his poems. I gave him my private notebook from 1938 as a present—the book into which I had copied some of my favorite poems in French and Turkish, and expressed my feelings. This notebook is part of his estate now. Besides my poems, he also translated into English one of my essays about a poet and a poem, and published it. He very much liked my nazîre (a poem modeled after another poem in respect to both content and form) on the lyric gazel that Kanunî Sultan Süleyman wrote to Hürrem, and published it as well. These youthful poems, which expressed adventures of "life" and the "heart," contributed to my close friendship with Talât. At some meetings, Talât mentioned those poems as a mark of his friendship with me.

Talât was a man of emotion and of poetry, who rose above the banality of life. He saw the world of God as a poetic stage. I believe that the pastry of our friendship was the reflection of his poetical eye upon the world. Do you know that Talât looked at the world and humanity with an ironic eye? He saw himself as, first and foremost, a poet. May God rest his soul.

Prof. Halil Ýnalcýk