Ottoman Divan poetry was a highly ritualized and symbolic art form. From the Persian poetry that largely inspired it, it inherited a wealth of symbols whose meanings and interrelationships—both of similitude (مراعات نظير mura’ât-i nazîr / تناسب tenâsüb) and opposition (تضاد tezâd)—were more or less prescribed. Examples of prevalent symbols that, to some extent, oppose one another include, among others:
- the nightingale (بلبل bülbül) — the rose (ﮔل gül)
- the world (جهان cihan; عالم ‘âlem) — the rosegarden (ﮔﻠﺴﺘﺎن gülistan; ﮔﻠﺸﻦ gülşen)
- the ascetic (زاهد zâhid) — the dervish (درويش derviş)
As the opposition of “the ascetic” and “the dervish” suggests, Divan poetry—much like Turkish folk poetry—was heavily influenced by Sufi thought. One of the primary characteristics of Divan poetry, however—as of the Persian poetry before it—was its mingling of the mystical Sufi element with a profane and even erotic element. Thus, the pairing of “the nightingale” and “the rose” simultaneously suggests two different relationships:
- the relationship between the fervent lover (“the nightingale”) and the inconstant beloved (“the rose”)
- the relationship between the individual Sufi practitioner (who is often characterized in Sufism as a lover) and God (who is considered the ultimate source and object of love)
Similarly, “the world” refers simultaneously to the physical world and to this physical world considered as the abode of sorrow and impermanence, while “the rosegarden” refers simultaneously to a literal garden and to the garden of Paradise. “The nightingale”, or suffering lover, is often seen as situated—both literally and figuratively—in “the world”, while “the rose”, or beloved, is seen as being in “the rosegarden”.
Divan poetry was composed through the constant juxtaposition of many such images within a strict metrical framework, thus allowing numerous potential meanings to emerge. A brief example is the following line of verse, or mısra (مصراع), by the 18th-century judge and poet Hayatî Efendi:
- بر گل مى وار بو گلشن ﻋالمدﻪ خارسز
- Bir gül mü var bu gülşen-i ‘âlemde hârsız
- (“Does any rose, in this rosegarden world, lack thorns?”)
Here, the nightingale is only implied (as being the poet/lover), while the rose, or beloved, is shown to be capable of inflicting pain with its thorns (خار hâr). The world, as a result, is seen as having both positive aspects (it is a rosegarden, and thus analogous to the garden of Paradise) and negative aspects (it is a rosegarden full of thorns, and thus different to the garden of Paradise).
As for the development of Divan poetry over the more than 500 years of its existence, that is—as the Ottomanist Walter G. Andrews points out—a study still in its infancy; clearly defined movements and periods have not yet been decided upon. Early in the history of the tradition, the Persian influence was very strong, but this was mitigated somewhat through the influence of poets such as theAzerbaijani Nesîmî (?–1417?) and the Uyghur Ali Şîr Nevâî (1441–1501), both of whom offered strong arguments for the poetic status of the Turkic languages as against the much-venerated Persian. Partly as a result of such arguments, Divan poetry in its strongest period—from the 16th to the 18th centuries—came to display a unique balance of Persian and Turkish elements, until the Persian influence began to predominate again in the early 19th century.
Turkish poets,(Ottoman and Chagatay), although they had been inspired and influenced by classical Persian poetry, it would be a superficial judgment to consider the former as blind imitators of the latters, as is often done. A limited vocabulary and common technique, and the same world of imagery and subject matter based mainly on Islamic sources were shared by all poets of Islamic literature.
Despite the lack of certainty regarding the stylistic movements and periods of Divan poetry, however, certain highly different styles are clear enough, and can perhaps be seen as exemplified by certain poets:
Fuzûlî (1483?–1556), a Divan poet of Turkmen origin
- Fuzûlî (1483?–1556); a unique poet who wrote with equal skill in Ottoman Turkish, Persian, and Arabic, and who came to be as influential in Persian as in Divan poetry
- Bâkî (1526–1600); a poet of great rhetorical power and linguistic subtlety whose skill in using the pre-established tropes of the Divan tradition is quite representative of the poetry in the time of Süleyman the Magnificent
- Nef‘î (1570?–1635); a poet considered the master of the kasîde (a kind of panegyric), as well as being known for his harshly satirical poems, which led to his execution
- Nâbî (1642–1712); a poet who wrote a number of socially oriented poems critical of the stagnation period of Ottoman history
- Nedîm (1681?–1730); a revolutionary poet of the Tulip Era of Ottoman history, who infused the rather élite and abstruse language of Divan poetry with numerous simpler, populist elements
- Şeyh Gâlib (1757–1799); a poet of the Mevlevî Sufi order whose work is considered the culmination of the highly complex so-called “Indian style” (سبك هندى sebk-i hindî)
The vast majority of Divan poetry was lyric in nature: either gazels (which make up the greatest part of the repertoire of the tradition), or kasîdes. There were, however, other common genres, most particularly the mesnevî, a kind of verse romance and thus a variety of narrative poetry; the two most notable examples of this form are the Leylî vü Mecnun(ليلى و مجنون) of Fuzûlî and the Hüsn ü Aşk (حسن و عشق; “Beauty and Love”) of Şeyh Gâlib.