IHSAN RAIF, Poet Ayşe Ihsan Raif (1877 Beirut – 1926 Paris)
She was born in Beirut in 1877 as the eldest daughter of a Circissian mother, Servet Hanim (d. 1913), and a famous politician father, Köse Mehmet Raif Pasha (1826-1913). She was the sister of Fatma Belkıs Erisken (1885-1950); Süleyman Suat who died in 1913 following an accident; the founder member of Turkish Institution Mehmet Fuat Kösearif (1868-1949); ambassador Ethem Ragıp Kösearif (1870-1946) and Abdüllatif Nihat Kösearif (1875-1925) who was an officer of foreign affairs.
Ihsan Raif was the first woman poet from Turkey who used syllabic meter and the verse styles of folk literature. She was educated by competent tutors since her childhood years. Her father was raised by Mithat Pasha. It was a known fact that Sultan Abdulhamit II did not like him, therefore he was dispatched to unfavourable remote locations by the Sultan. While he sent his sons to Europe for education, he hired many teachers for his daughters who kept changing cities in order to follow their father. Being educated by Danyal Efendi in Adana,
Ihsan Raif had many Armenian friends. She was taught Turkish and Western music, piano and French by Tevfik Lami Bey. Her family was also very influential in her education. Her brother was one of the founder philologists of the national literature; the famous writer, Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil was her brother in law.
Poet Feylosof Riza Tevfik (Bölükbasi) was a close family friend and he was also very influential in İhsan Raif’s poetic education. Even though this information has led some scholars of literature history to think that she was affected by him and started to write poems after she met him, İhsan Raif had in fact published her first poems in one of the women’s journals that were popular during the Second Constitutional Era, Mehasin, long before she met him. The atmosphere that emerged with the Second Constitutional Era gave women the chance to gather and speak of their needs and demands. Ihsan Raif was one of the feminists of the time and supported the idea that universities should be founded for women.
During the Balkan War, she was a voluntary nurse in the Red Crescent (Hilal-i Ahmer). She depicted the experiences she gained in the poems she wrote for the Red Crescent. She attended meetings and worked actively in the women’s committee of the Association of National Defense (Müdafaa-i Milliye Cemiyeti) which was founded to collect alms, find volunteers and support education. She was one of the women who read poems on the pulpit along with Fatma Aliye and Halide Edip in a rally that was prepared by the Association for Defence of National Rights, after the defeat in the Balkan War (Nezihe Muhittin, Turk Kadini).
Her poems were published in Mehasin along with writers and poets who were not famous then, such as Halide Edip, Emine Semiye, Sukufe Nihal and Fatma Aliye. These were nationalist poems. In 1912 she published some of her poems with a pen name, I.R. in the journal Rubab, whose aim was to support new talent and was publishing women writers and poets along with the others. She met her third husband Sahabettin Suleyman who was the chief editor of the journal after she published her poems.
In 1912, she published a four-page collection of poems named Ey Ehl-i Islam which was dedicated to the army. In 1914 she published her first book, Tears (Gözyasları), which contained the fifty poems that were previously published in Mehasin and Rubab. The book consisted of five parts, entitled Tears, Clamours, Desolations, Odd Moments and Loves. Her book was highly praised. One of the most notable reviews belonged to Selahattin Enis, who highlighted the fact that she was one of the rare poets who used syllabic meter to write about love and excitement, unlike many other Turkist poets who used it to write about the country (Ozturk, 24).
In the same year, she published a sixteen-page booklet, entitled Women and Homeland (Kadın ve Vatan). She donated the income of the book to the Association for the Ottoman Navy (Osmanli Donanma Cemiyeti). The poems in this booklet mostly praise the motherhood of the Ottoman women and denote that women serve the country through their sons. (Aysegul Yaraman, Resmi Tarihten Kadin Tarihine, 69)She died before finishing her last book, The Roses of Seven Mountains (Yedi Dagin Gulleri). (Cited from Ruseb Esef Gunaydın’s book, As They Say (Diyorlar ki) by Cemil Ozturk – Ihsan Raif Hanim, 23).
In total she married four times. She remained married for five years with her first husband, Mehmet Ali Bora, with whom she married with the insistence of her father. She had three children from her first marriage, Ahmet Hikmet Bora (1891-1970), Hatice Mehrüba Atay (1895-1984) and Mehmet Akif Bora (1899-1972).
After her divorce from Mehmet Ali Bora, she married for the second time which lasted for two years. Her third husband, the famous writer and the chief editor of Rubab, Sahabettin Suleyman, with whom she had a love affair for six years, died from Spanish flu in Switzerland where they went in the hope that the mountain air would cure his health. Shortly after this sudden death, she got married with a man from Strasburg, Bel, who she met while Sahabettin Suleyman was still alive. Bel was converted to Islam afterwards and changed his name to Husrev. This relationship caused Ihsan Raif to be referred to not for her highly praised poems but for the gossip surrounding her. She lived in Sweden with her fourth husband and travelled to European countries including France and Belgium. Her last journey was to France where she went for treatment. She died at the age of forty nine during appendicitis surgery in Paris. She is buried in Rumelihisarı
The news about her death appeared in the newspapers, highlighting the success of her poetry. She was described in an article in Servet-i Funun as follows: “The first Turkish woman poet, İhsan Raif, who wrote passionate poems using syllabic meter when the syllabic meter was not
improved as it is now, will be remembered dearly.” This shows her to be one of the leading names in Turkish literature (cited by Cemil Ozturk, 18).
Ihsan Raif not only wrote poems but also composed songs, performing them with her piano. So far nineteen songs that have been composed by her have been identified. Also some of her poems were put to music by other people. Today most of them are being performed without
mentioning her name.Like many others, her poems were not transposed into the Latin alphabet for a long time. For the first time, Kenan Akyuz transposed eleven poems from Tears and included them in his The Anthology of Turkish Poetry Under the Influence of Western Poetry (Batı Şiiri Tesirindeki Türk Şiiri). According to Akyuz, Ihsan Raif is the most lyrical poet among Turkish women poets.
All of her poems were publish in 2001 by Cemil Ozturk. The only attempt before was when Huveyla Coskunturk wrote her biography and added some of her poems into the Ministry of Culture Turk Buyukler series. While Cemil Ozturk does not provide details about her position in the women’s movement and literature of the time, Huveyla Coskun presents an influential analysis on this subject that is necessary to include in order to gain a complete perspective on İhsan Raif’s poetry.