Selected,  Translated and Edited by Mevlut Ceylan

Layer upon layer of civilisations. Religious and cultural heritage stretching back thousands of years. Rich complex history at every street corner. Its name evokes beautiful memories, allows imagination to run riot. Istanbul is the Eternal City, a perpetual destination. Not surprisingly, it has inspired countless poets. Just as in Sufism the mystical experience is described using the language of profane love,yet always contrasted with divine love, the poets address Istanbul hyperbolically as mistress, as girlfriend, as wife, with all the ambiguities such relationships involve. She is an undying and ever young lover. Torment and angst are her middle name. She’s always youthful, beautiful and alluring. Istanbul is a demanding mistress whose favours are courted by many:

I fell in love with you when I saw you,

I can’t forget you till the end of my life

After a long period when her beauties were obscured, mosques, colleges and mausolea, neglected and allowed to decay, and the Golden Horn turned into an industrial sewer, Istanbul has returned to its former glories. During the last decades, mosques have been refurbished, caravanserais converted to new usage such as craft workshops or hotels, the ‘golden’ Horn cleansed. In places like Khodja Mustafa Pasha and the Booksellers Bazaar, never invaded by modernity, it is still possible to recapture something of the past of the peerless city recorded by the English architect and artist, Thomas Allom (1804–72), in his engravings in the early nineteenth century. This was prior to the Tanzimat reforms and the degradation of the Islamic environment due to an uncritical adulation of everything Western. That so much of this beauty was allowed to vanish accounts for the poet’s nostalgia. The consummation of the poet’s love affair comes when he sees the city in everything: ‘Istanbul, I touch you with a hundred thousand hands’.

These poems, covering a span of over hundred years, take us to the physical and emotional heart of the city and reveals some of the mystique of the city. Some of the great poets of Turkish literature take us to a journey along the city’s promenades, pleasure places and cafeterias: Kagithane Square, Sadabad, Camlica, Hisar, and Kucukcekmece, the site of caves at Yarimburgaz where Paleolithic culture flourished. Sometimes the poet address Istanbul directly; other times they describe her charm. But there is always an invitation: come and embrace the undying lure of Istanbul. 

Dreams of Istanbul 

Mehmet Akif Ersoy (1873–1936)

The boat was rolling over in an ocean…

The dream threw me on the shores of Marmara!

I saw from only a couple of miles away

Your blackened Istanbul clear as crystal,

Its forehead shining like a crescent:

She’s laughing; coquettish, charming and attractive.

What base destitution now, alas!

What arrogance, what ostentation!

Many schools are opened, men and women study;

Factories are in full steam, textile industries progress.

Printing houses work day and night.

New companies emerge for the benefit of the people,

New parties arise to enlighten the people,

Economy prospers

And ships unload wealth from length to length of her shores.

End of September 

Yahya Kemal Beyatli (1884–1958)

The days are brief, old folks of Kanlica

Remember all the autumns of the past.

Life is too short to love this district only…

I wish summers to last and days to be longer…

That rare drink quenched our thirst for years…

Ah! Life is too short for such a joy.

Death is our end, we’re not afraid of it,

But it’s hard to be away from the motherland.

Not to return from death’s night to this shore,

Is worse than death, this is the heart’s desire.

Kodja Mujstafa Pasha 

Yahya Kemal Beyatli (1884–1958)

Kodja Mustafa Pasha! Poor and distant Istanbul!

Since the conquest you’re a devout believer, and needy,

Here live those who deem sorrow is pleasure.

I was with them all day in this lovely dream.

Our motherland and nation are inseparable twins.

Thus we alone have been seen, and have been heard.

The moral frame radiant for five centuries;

Death is near, so close.

Sun followed an April rain.

On such a day reality mingled with dreams.

Doomsday is on the scene, very near,

So near there’s no dividing wall between,

One is a step away from the other,

Seeing the beloved beyond is certain.

The Derelict Temple of the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque

Riza Tevfik (1869–1949)

I came and wore down your threshold.

You’re encircled by thorns and thistles.

I saw writings on your High Pulpit,

Were they remnants of happy moments, perhaps?

A glance from the setting sun faded,

Left your Qiblah in the dark,

The destiny of the unlucky Ummah

Casts shadows upon your ruined domes.

In a happy time of Islam

Its fountain had the elixir of life.

Now in its ruined baldaquin

The singing birds are rare.

There are sacred words of wisdom on your inscription,

There’s something to be learned from your speech.

The cries of Tekbeer were suffocated

In your heavenly ruins.

Hey Riza, prostrate yourself before Him, and cry,

Your sufferings will make the stones talk.

I’ll tell you fables, weep, and listen;

That glorious past was only a fairy tale.


Arif Nihat Asya (1904–1975)

Yesterday, mobilization started, hands are ready;Lead was melted and marble blocks cut down.

It wasn’t money that built these domes, 

These minarets, but love.

In such a ship, Noah defeated water

And the soul set sail with these wings.


O traveller, if you could find a place,

A golden moon on everyone’s brow,

Watch the mosques of Istanbul,

Count the minarets and domes!


Here the sky opens quite blue,

It stands on silver pillars…

Shadows of some on the ground

And water reflecting others,

The roads to the Lord are here.

My Dear Istanbul

Necip Fazil Kisakurek (1905–1983)

They have melted my soul and  frozen it in a mould;

They have named it Istanbul, and put it on earth.

There’s something smoking inside me; air, colour, grace, and climate;

That’s my beloved who came from beyond time and place.

Its flowers are golden stars, its water is sweet;

The moon and the sun have always been Istanbulian.

The sea and the earth have reached their union in her

And the dreams have turned to reality in her.

                          Istanbul is my life;

                          my motherland…



History has eyes, the riddles on ancient walls;

Cypresses, cypresses are of fine stature, they’re the curtains

                             of two worlds…

A steed rears up on the clouds;

Diamond domes, perhaps there are billions of steeds…

The minarets are index fingers pointing to the sky.

In every embroidery a meaning: we must die.                                                        

Death is more alive than life, mercy is greater than sin;

When Beyoğlu is drowning in worldly pleasures,

                               Karacaahmet weeps…

                           Seek the meaning, find it!

                           Find it in Istanbul!



The Bosphorus, the silver brazier of the Bosphorus, boils the coolness;

The depths of heaven on earth are in Çamlica.

Playful waters are the guests in the basement of the sea-side house;

A photo of the sad face of a former diplomat hangs on the wall.

Every evening flames on the windows in Üsküdar,

A haunted house, big as the city…

A song from the Ud or the Tanbour?

It sings “Katibim” behind the bay-windows…

              Its women are like sharp knives,

              Warm like fresh blood,



Time on the seven hills embroiders

Seven colours, seven voices, endless manifestation…!

Eyüp is an orphan, Kadiköy is dressed up, Moda is haughty,

Wind in the Island plays tricks with the girls.

Each dawn, the arrows fly from their bows.

Cries come from Topkapi Palace still.

The mothers are the best of sweethearts, Istanbul is the best of places;

Never mind the cheerful crowd, those who cry are happier.   

Its night smells hyacinth, Its Turkish the nightingale’s voice.



My Country

Asaf Halet Çhelebi (1907–1958)

the tree grew out of

Osman Ghazi’s heart,




the land I live in

my Murad, my Yildirim, my Fatih,

my janissary,

      my Evliya Çhelebi,

my Bursa, my Istanbul,

especially my Istanbul;

my history, my fine arts,

my mother, my father,

      my neighbours,

Nerkis the black maid,

Nevres my Circassian nurse;

sea lights reflect on my house in Jihangir.

I’ve not fallen from heaven on this place;

this place is my Istanbul,

these people are mine,

these skies are mine;

Omer the sweet child is mine,

my forefathers my country and my

             everything is hers.

In the dream Osman Ghazi saw

Omer and I are there.

The Language of My Istanbul 

Asaf Halet Çhelebi (1907–1958)

my mother’s tongue,

my father’s tongue,

my Istanbul’s tongue,

my Istanbul’s tongue.

my Istanbul’s Effendi

    and its Lady

guardian of my streets,

seller of yogurt, fishmongers,

you’re my life,

interpreter of my soul.

this tongue sang my lullaby,

this tongue told my tales.

I listen to my folk songs from this tongue.

I’ve recited my poems with this tongue,

“oh, oppressor, stop prodding me to speak

     my innermost self”.


Cahit Irgat (1916–1971)

Don’t ask what’s in Istanbul,

What’s in Istanbul?

There’s Istanbul in Istanbul.


Ilhan Berk (1916–2008)

I wrote this poem in nineteen forty nine,

I had more trouble than I could handle.

I was looking at Istanbul, 

               my hands in my pockets.

Many horses passed before me,

               pouring sweat

I remembered your strength, I felt relaxed

my thoroughbred,

my beautiful steed,

all day long, the horses before me, 

I wandered in Istanbul.


A. Kadir (1917–1985)

There are seas


limpid and full of light,

that make you reflect.

Here are ships at anchor;

who knows

the weight of their chains.




Look, here’s the Bridge,

all day trampled underfoot,

and creaking, screeching roads;

and there, you see

Sultanahmet Square.

At last, the seafront,

where the fish smell good.

And then the Islands

     and all their pinewood.

Moonlight was sweet as heaven,

they say,

you lived in a dream world there.

Such is your vision of Istanbul, I think,

if you stand before a postcard

       and look with hungry longing.

Longing for the Sea

Ilhan Geçer (1917–2004)

Your soft coolness is in my hand,

the time is in bluish memories.

Your wind is all over blue

and blows through my evenings.

In open sea the sail is homesick,

foaming sea-gulls are on my horizon.

My looks desire salt

and greet bright seasons.

I wish I was in a sea city,

I wish my feet to touch sea-weed,

I wish my song to be sung

by rough waters.

I wish the fishes to swim by my shores,

tiny and handsome fishes.

I wish they’d wave good-bye,

My dear Istanbul.


Salah Birsel (1919–1999)

All of you will run to Emirgan

In September or October

And sit before samovars

Drinking your tea and tea again.

Work and things will be forgotten

Under the plane tree till evening,

You’ll be stretched out as if

You’re in your own home,

You’ll eat corn and corn again.

Gentlemen, there’s no way out,

All of you will laugh and shout,

Sit down and get up

and smoke hubble-bubble, hubble-bubble.

The Bosphorus 

Necdet Evliyagil (1920–1992)


Every season


with her



each side of the strait

envelops itself in the wind’s blueness.

Sea is blue,

sky is blue,

the old plane tree is blue

The fisherman’s eyes are blue

who waits his kismet by the sea. 


Mucap Ofluoğlu (1923–2012)

Istanbul was cloudy today.

It’s still six o’clock in the morning;

it’s the nineteenth

of June

in Kadiköy Harbour

and the day is Monday.

It’s still six o’clock in the morning;

it’s been some time

since I’ve seen Istanbul

at this time of day.

It’s drizzling, I’m looking at Istanbul the giant city

from hundreds of years ago.

This city turned over 

to Mehmed the Conqueror

in fourteen hundred and fifty-three,

on a night in May.

Pulled overland on rollers

the galleys lay in the harbour side by side

against Byzantium’s line of defence.

Amid laughter

The Conqueror’s vessels walked on land. 

Scimitars were brandished on the towers

and javelins hurled at the walls,

When Islam spread

and Constantinople became Istanbul.


Mehmet Çinarli (1925–1999)

I fell in love with you when I saw you,

I can’t forget you till the end of my life, Yakacik.

As the moon lights us as its pleases,

O Yakacik! What a sweet evening we had.

As you’d expect to be in such a place

You showed us all your gifts.

We gave all our grievances to the wild winds,

O Yakacik! What a sweet evening we had.

We sat facing Marmara 

And added new tunes to the songs,

As if we climbed to the seven heavens.

O Yakacik! What a sweet evening we had.

All the drinks took their taste from your water.

The beloved drank it and became ever sweeter.

We had the time of our life until late night,

I cannot forget you till the end of my life, Yakacik!

The Cloud of Istanbul

Arif Damar (1925–2010)

Heaps of clouds are coming,

They’re white in the island, and in Moda,

They’re black over the Golden Horn

And they disappear in Topkapi.


Umit Yasar Oguzcan (1926–1984)

A room in the house, in the room Istanbul

A mirror in the room, in the mirror Istanbul.

A man lit his cigarette; Istanbul smoke,

A woman opened her bag, Istanbul in the bag.

I saw the child cast his fishing line in the sea,

He started to pull it up, Istanbul on the hook.

What sort of water is this, what kind of city?

Istanbul’s in the bottle, Istanbul’s on the table.

When we walk she walks, when we stop she stops; we were confused,

She’s on one side, I’m on the other, Istanbul in the middle.

Once you love, you’re in trouble.

Wherever you go, Istanbul is there.

Lost Days

Metin Eloğlu (1927–1985)

Bring me some Istanbul,

fill the bowl with the sea;

let them sift my days in a bag.

Whatever was left of Üsküdar from 

            that summer with Elif,

stuff them in your pockets;

if they don’t have them, the neighbours might,

they knew me and will be pleased.

Tell them Metin sent you.


Mustafa Necati Karaer (1929-1995)

Perhaps the water of the Bosphorus has changed;

I’ve found you on this Istanbul morning.

I don’t know how to say it –

When I come to Istanbul, I become Istanbul.

Your hands are in Bebek, your face is in Küçüksu,

You’re wearing a sea-blue blouse;

Like a poplar tree long and slender,

I’ve found you on this Istanbul morning.

A good-morning fell on the windows

Near the houses, streets will awaken soon.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are in one line.

I’ve found you on this Istanbul morning.

Clouds take me to Eyüp,

Perhaps they know something.

Beyoglu is my wine, my bread is Üsküdar,

When I came to Istanbul, I became Istanbul.

I’m wet, I’ve come from far away,

My business is to love, not to write poetry;

Please don’t disturb my dreams,

I’ve found you on this Istanbul morning

When I came to Istanbul, I became Istanbul.

I Love Istanbul

Ayhan Inal (1931– )

Her lover for years,

I love Istanbul.

Beylerbeyi, Küçükyali,

I love Istanbul.

I love Istanbul

With her sweet accent,

Her poverty, her sufferings,

Her Kumburgaz and her Sile.

Sultanahmet, Dolmabahçe,

From inside

To outside,

Are like lace work on canvas.

Visitors wear out the threshold

Of mosques where the Qur’an is recited.

Its corners are sacred.

I love Istanbul.

Our best ornament.

We’re grateful to Him,

Our heaven on earth,

I love Istanbul.

The Bosphorus has no equal, the Golden Horn is blue,

Let’s walk in the moonlight in Küçüksu.

How can we tire of this city?

I love Istanbul…

Before the Sunrise in Sehzadebasi 

Sezai Karakoç  (1933– )

In the courtyard of the mosque

he looks for a place to sit 

on a cold stone

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi,

Holding tight his head between two hands,

and picking up birds’ feathers

from the attic of nights,

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

Covered with dust the camels

charmed by poetry;

roses scatter from the saddlebags

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

Few children on the road,

light holds the dome,

fresh sounds in the grave

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

Fountains made of tulips,

fountains of violets,

tombs like waterfalls,

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

Yunus Emre,


Mimar Sinan,

they are all in Sehzadebasi__

before the sun rises.

only a humble tree 

bears the sky on its branches,

its roots embrace the earth

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

Higher that the Qaf Mountain,

longer than the Great Wall of China,

the ebb and flow within us,

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

Princes before daybreak

carrying torches,

wander around in Sehzadebasi,

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

Convoys from the country of djinns

pass riding mules,

playing a long song on the violin,

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

Greetings to the crimson horizon

from Süleymaniye and Beyazit.

Of course I want to be there

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

The sun is risen, the day is born,

the dawn will break, this is certain.

The day will conceive many days

before the sun rises in Sehzadebasi.

The Golden Horn

Kemal Özer (1936–2009)

Istanbul has been awake for some time,

the domes and minarets

have pierced the twilight and come out

like working hands, the eyes, and  feet

have been awake

without sipping enough of their tea;

they’re on their way to work;

the factories are hungry.

Istanbul has been hungry for a long time,

the sky scrapers are gluttons,

they’re impatient and ready

for their meals,

the big hotels are ready for their visitors,

and casinos, and amusement centres;

merchants have untied their appetite’s collar

to devour the golden horn.

Your Eyes Suddenly Became Istanbul

Yavuz Bülent Bakiler (1936– )

A fine rain starts with you,

The beauty of a poem fills my heart.

The sea gulls perch on my shoulder,

Your eyes suddenly become Istanbul.

I’m away from you, from nights and evenings

My poems are winds blowing in far away mountains…

Like still waters I’ll diminish

One day if you don’t suddenly appear.

You’ll come with songs; sensitive, thoughtful;

‘Just look into my eyes’, you’ll say.

Slowly when my hands touch your hands

You will disappear.

My one hand will draw you on all the windows,

The other will caress you;

My heart a rainbow a thousand times a day

Will become alive.

What joy to find your face in every face.

And lose you almost everywhere.

What joy to miss the ferry,

And be quite alone on the quay;

A fine rain starts with you.

The beauty of a poem fills my heart,

The sea gulls perch on my shoulders,

Your eyes become suddenly Istanbul. 

The Pigeons

Erdem Bayazit (1939–2008)

The tree was swallowing a tombstone in Çarsikapi

“Istanbul is moving within us”.

A child was selling the waterless state of temples

In a water jar whose voice we could not remember, 

the sun stood over us

like our sins.

Why do these pigeons exist?

To bring a memory to life?

Or to carry an immortal voice beyond,

In the palms of the mosques?


Chait Zarifoglu (1940–1987)

he ripped off a face from the text in his hand,

a face that was starting a speech.

“gentlemen”, it said,

“fatih sultan mehemet han

when he entered istanbul

there was a pretty girl,

and such a beauty,

she was so pretty.

if the padishah loves the land

she was the land.

She ran and ran

and kissed the floor in front of his horse”.

“Dear fellows, I wish you

     knew the turmoil

        within me.

I wish you knew youth, and youthfulness,

I wish you knew the sultan

     who was loved by his foes”.

(When the governor visited her village

an old woman said: “Long live my Padishah!”)


Akif Inan (1940–2000)

Before your eyes touched my heart,

O Istanbul, where were those birds?

Sea is my tongue’s lexicon;

Songs, my brother, where were they?

Lasting rain clouds are within me;

Forest, rivers and roses, where were they?

Your fingers are reflections of light,

Where were my mother’s and daughter’s hands?

Before your eyes touched my heart,

Sorrows, laughter and dreams, where were they?


Ataol Behramoğlu (1942–

I’m drawing an Istanbul on my chest

With my thumb, in the shape of a butterfly;

In front of the mirror like a child

I’m stroking my face and my hair.

Any bit of sea from Kadiköy,

A half-empty tram from Sisli   

From Samatya, perhaps from Sultanahmet,

I remember fig trees. 

I’m drawing an Istanbul on my chest

With my thumb, in the shape of a butterfly,

I haven’t much hope, I’m a bit tired,

I like my eyes best.

Cheerful Loneliness

Mehmet Ragip Karci (1945–2020)

A deer is passing in your eyes

And you’re carrying the hoarse voice of Istanbul 

                                       in your hair.

Then on the wettest April day 

on the pavements

you seek your childhood.

You’re running, running

and so much happiness on your face;

you’re unrecognisable.

The doves land gently next you,

you start singing a love song.

Your cavalry rides full gallop.

in your cheerful loneliness

Are you laughing?

Or the stars assembling

in your dovelike looks?


Kamil Esfak Berki (1948– )

In Istanbul in Beyoglu 

Today I noticed a code of practice:

in this cafeteria of the future

There’s not much food

and not much talk.

The Bitter End

Cumali Ünaldi (1949– )

Shattered life! O spear that hits the heart!

Georgios Francis leans back on an old Byzantine

fountain and tells the story of Paleologolos 

the defeated King – our valiant foe – 

He talks of the King’s lost water, the sea, 

his last moments, the loneliness, and the King 

who confronted death proudly; 

his longing was a rose beautified by the Conqueror.

The Architect 

Mehmet Atilla Maras (1949– )

Oh Sinan

you’re the holy architect of eternity

you’re the minaret

elegant, deep and faithful

you’re the fountain of ablutions

you’re the dove

you’re the limpid river

you’re the coolness of stones

you’re the architect

Rumeli Kavaği

Mustafa Özer (1949– )

By the old plane trees of Kanlica

Winds from the South West rest.

All the colours indulge in an orgy,

all the friends embrace each other

Time, History, and I.

Rumeli Kavaği melts with the breeze,

pomegranate trees hang,

      hair of the Bosphorus.

Pomegranate trees, beautiful girls,

and the candle melts and drops fine drops.

Time, History and I.

An Ode

Besir Ayvazoğlu (1953– )

When the shadow of the Padishah wanders

In old Istanbul through the seven seasons

Suddenly a silky silence grows

Mahmud the Second goes to his summer house

The phoenix wand opens in a thousand and one hearts

And brings Leyla from the heart breaking tales 

Said Effendi who is from the Thousand and One Nights

Tells countless funny jokes  

O beloved who embroiders love on my eyes

Now I’m with you in longing

From the thin lips of silence

Play the songs with one long kiss 

Like the sun’s free spirit scattered on the earth

Let the waters shine on your beauty 

Let the crescent rest on the players’ fingers 

Let them breathe their music to the sky

Looking for Istanbul

Arif Ay (1953– )

This is Istanbul in the sun.

When you look at her

She is standing on guard

And resists your attacks.

These are the minarets

That convey news

From heaven to earth

And from earth to heaven.

When a generous heart

Looks with love,

Doors open to the sea

And streets mirror the morning.

Only with love does she come to you,

When you turn your eyes,

This is Istanbul.

War of Roses

Ahmet Kot (1953– )

The guns you loaded

With water they say

Fired roses

Into the breast of Byzantium

The Fires

Ibrahim Demirci (1955– )

One day we shall find the way

to explain silence

To transmute voices into words

and those wise designs

into telling calligraphy

Fragments of Memory

Necip Evlice (1956– )

we’re in Istanbul

the giant city,

three of us in the early morning

On a sea-gull sea;

we’re terrific passengers.

we’re watching an island

through the angry looks of the crew,

which ship,

which island,

which sea?

Stop My Friend

Ali Göçer (1956– )

I’m looking at the world

looking at oceans of hatred

flowing past

from the Bosphorus,

or the middle-east,

or from the world’s jugular vein.

Stop my friend,

Stop and wait for me.


Mevlut Ceylan (1958– )

I am in front of demolished walls

shaking the nights, gathering

the eyes of history

I am the one singled out

to cultivate the well-toiled field

of exile

I am asked to feed

the magnetic north to empty words

we must know where we stand


Rahmi Kaya (1960– )

Water is heavy with grief in the Golden Horn.

The roads of wet Istanbul are sick with panic.

Buildings and laws descend on my heart 

like frontier walls.

O Istanbul, only your chaos and echoes remain.

Water is heavy with grief in the Golden Horn.

The Monumental Kiss

Necat Çavuş (1959– )

Mimar Sinan seized the loveliest parts of Constantinople

and kissed her over and over and  created Istanbul.

Perhaps in Sehzadebasi or Süleymaniye

one kiss became a popular tree in the wind,

one, alchemy against the ages,

one, music’s blossoming rose,

one, a sound in the sea

In Üsküdar or Samipasa.  

Dear God! What a kiss it was. I don’t

think anyone ever gave Istanbul such a kiss!

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