A Woman Like the Renaissance

“A woman we know as ‘a woman like the Renaissance,’ who has filled her 91-year life with significant literary contributions. She was the greatest love of Orhan Veli Kanık, for whom Can Yücel wrote poems, and the literature teacher of Gülten Akın. She is the one whom Cemal Süreya described as ‘a woman like the Republic.’ The wife of Arif Damar and the muse of poets of her time: Nahit Gelenbevi Fıratlı Damar.

Born in Crete in 1909, Nahit Hanım moved to Istanbul with her family at a very young age. She graduated from Erenköy Girls’ High School and completed her studies in the Philosophy Department at Istanbul University. Despite graduating from the Philosophy Department, she started working as a literature teacher at Ankara Girls’ High School due to a lack of available positions in her field. With her beauty, intelligence, demeanor, and ideas, Nahit Hanım attracted the attention of the literary community of her time and began receiving poems written for her by famous poets.

The first poems written to her were by Necip Fazıl. His lines, ‘I’m waiting, come already. Definitely, definitely… Everything is ready: Istanbul, the fog, the rainy weather, the house, the room, the stove, and me,’ addressed to Nahit Hanım, remained unanswered. At the same time, Sabahattin Ali also fell for Nahit Hanım and wrote her long letters. Unfortunately, these letters were returned to Sabahattin Ali unopened. In his sorrow, Sabahattin Ali wrote the poem ‘Melancholy’ and addressed Nahit Hanım with the following lines:

“Beni en güzel günümde

Sebepsiz bir keder alır.

Bütün ömrümün beynimde

Acı bir tortusu kalır.”

Shortly after, she married Halil Vedat Fıratlı, a student of Yahya Kemal and an inspector for the Ministry of Education. The only thing she retained from this marriage, which she would use for the rest of her life, was the surname “Fıratlı.”

As this marriage was nearing its end, she met Orhan Veli on the Bosphorus ferry in 1947. The love that slowly began to develop between them became unforgettable for both. While Orhan Veli lived in Istanbul, Nahit Hanım was working at Ankara Girls’ High School. Despite his strong desire to travel to Ankara to see Nahit Hanım, Orhan Veli was unable to do so. He struggled to make ends meet with the income he earned from his writings. He couldn’t afford new clothes, and thus, felt ashamed to visit Nahit Hanım in his old coat and shoes. Battling financial hardships, he detailed all his experiences in the letters he wrote to her. These letters did not only mention problems; he also sent his poems to Nahit Hanım before they were published so that she would be the first to read them. In these letters, Orhan Veli used sincere and simple language to express his deepest feelings for her. In one letter, he spoke of his great love for Nahit Hanım: I have not looked at anyone else just to think of you. And be sure, I take no pleasure in anything in the world. Among all these bitter days, I seek only you.

This passionate love lived through letters, met a tragic end with Orhan Veli’s sudden death in 1950. This love, which had progressed without yielding to distances, was helpless in the face of death. After Orhan Veli’s death, a note was found in the pocket of the jacket he was wearing, written for Nahit Hanım:

”Hiçbirine bağlanmadım

Ona bağlandığım kadar.

Sade kadın değil, insan.

Ne kibarlık budalası,

Ne malda mülkte gözü var.

Hür olsak der,

Eşit olsak der.

İnsanları sevmesini bilir

Yaşamayı sevdiği kadar.”

Even though this love ended with a tragic conclusion, it is etched deeply into our memories. Perhaps what makes this love so unforgettable is its abrupt ending. The book “Yalnız Seni Arıyorum” (Only Seeking You), a collection of letters between Orhan Veli and Nahit Hanım, published in 2014, stands as the greatest testament to this legendary love.

After Orhan Veli’s death, Nahit Hanım’s name was associated for a time with Can Yücel. Although there is no definitive information on this matter, it is known that Can Yücel wrote poems for Nahit Hanım.

Another event in 1950 also changed Nahit Hanım’s life. After refusing a dance offer from the Director of National Education at a ball, she was exiled to Edirne. Following Edirne, Nahit Hanım was reassigned to Istanbul, where she became closer to her literary friends and started hosting the “Friday Gatherings” at her home in Istanbul, which became synonymous with her. These traditional Friday gatherings brought a new breath to the literary world. During these meetings, not only literature but also topics on love and life were discussed, ideas were shared, and good times were had. These literary discussions even formed the cornerstones of Republican Literature and significantly influenced the literary community.

In 1995, Nahit Hanım married Arif Damar and continued the Friday Gatherings tradition in their home in Kurtuluş.

Starting with Ahmet Muhip Dıranas and including Küçük İskender, these gatherings continued uninterrupted until Nahit Hanım died in 2002, becoming the lifeblood of the period’s literature. Perhaps this is why Samet Ağaoğlu called her a “Renaissance-like woman”, implying that Nahit Hanım was the Renaissance of literature. Cemal Süreya supported this view, using the phrase “Republic-like woman” as both praise for her character and acknowledgment of her significant support to Republican Literature.

Although she did not directly contribute to our literature, Nahit Hanım is remembered today as one of the unique individuals who significantly aided the development of Turkish Literature through her financial and moral support, fully deserving all the beautiful epithets bestowed upon her as the hidden force behind the scenes.


İpek Aka

Literature Editor