Inspiration Of Poets : İzmir

The subject of poems by nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer, İzmir is mentioned as well by famous wiıters from homer and Victor Hugo to Yorgo Seferis and İhsan Oktay Anar.

Garnering broad acclaim at Paris’ famous Louvre Museum, the 2009/10 Smyrna Exhibition confirmed that the history of İzmir goes back some 8,500 years. One of the Aegean’s major port cities in history, İzmir was transformed into a center of art and learning in Antiquity. The city, which aims today to welcome some five million visitors a year for culture, convention and thermal tourism, boasts a vast hinterland all the way from Ephesus to Çeşme. A touristic city for all seasons with its cantilevered ‘cumba’ balconies, historic pastry shops and palm-lined avenues plied by phaetons, İzmir is also of interest from a literary angle.

Hugo's Princess
Famed for its gentle zephyrs, İzmir is the birthplace of Homer, who set down in writing the Iliad and Odyssey epics, marking the beginning of European literature. Attracting the attention of European intellectuals in the Ottoman period, the city welcomed numerous prominent travelers starting from the 17th century. According to İzmir writer Yaşar Aksoy, Jean-Baptiste visited the city in 1650, the Chevalier d’Arvieux in 1654, Jean de Thevenot in 1658 and Gemelli Careri in 1693. Meanwhile the book Travels in Asia Minor by Cornelius de Bruyn, who came to the city in 1678, is considered one of the first examples of the travel book genre in history. And a book written by Jakob Spon, a pioneering figure in archeometry who came to İzmir in 1675, is one of the most valuable works in the Berlin State Library today.  Meanwhile the English traveler Francis Arundell is known for what he wrote about the life of Muslims in İzmir in the 19th century. Yet another prominent literary figure associated with İzmir is Alphonse de Lamartine. This French poet and short story writer, who came to İzmir at the invitation of Sultan Mahmud II and lived in the city for some time, mentions it frequently in his writings. We often encounter İzmir in the works of world-famous travelers like Ibn Batuta, Evliya Çelebi and Kâtip Çelebi as well. The interest of western travelers in İzmir continued into the 19th century when more than 50 travelers and writers, most notably Charles Texier, found their way to the city. Among the many examples showing how influential the city is in world literature is Victor Hugo’s comparison of İzmir to a princess in his book Les Orientales. 

Nobel For An İzmir Poet
Writers about İzmir have captured Nobel prizes more than once. İzmir looms large in the poems of the Urla-born George (Yorgo) Seferis, who was deemed worthy of the prize in 1963. The winner of the most recent Nobel prize in literature, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer is another visitor to the city. The poet, who came to the city in the 1960’s and was entranced by it, is known to have written a famous poem titled İzmir at Three O’Clock based on his impressions. He even has two books, Hüzün Gondola (Grief Gondola) and İzmir Saat Üç (İzmir Three O’Clock) in Turkish.  Tranströmer, who published his first poem when he was 23 years old, tells an interesting story about he came to İzmir. Keen to tour the world, the poet was eager to get to know Turkey and explained the situation to Turkish poet and photographer Lütfî Özkök, who was living in Sweden at the time. Özkök in turn directed the him to his friends in Turkey. An itinerary was drawn up and Tranströmer set out. His first stop in Turkey was Istanbul, where the Turkish poets took a close interest in him, showing him the sights and taking him out for dinner. From Istanbul he proceeded to Bursa to see for himself the magnificent monuments of the Ottomans. Then he went to İzmir and was quickly enchanted with the city. On his way back to Sweden he was weary of traveling but very happy. In sum, there is no shortage of writers who have been inspired by İzmir. But it would be a grave oversight to conclude without mentioning distinguished Turkish writers of the last century like Necati Cumalı, Süreyya Berfe, İhsan Oktay Anar and Murat Uyukulak. What can one say? Literature becomes İzmir, as İzmir becomes literature.

İzmir At The Three O'clock

Just ahead in the almost empty street
Ttwo beggars, one without legs–
He’s carried on the other one’s back.

They stood–as on a midnight road an animal
Stands blinded staring into the headlights–
For one moment before passing on and scuttled across the street like boys
In a playground while the midday heat’s
Myriad of clocks ticked in space.
Translated by Robin Fulton

TOMAS TRANSTRÖMER