Also known as Adunis; Ali Ahmad Esber; Ali Ahmad Sa’id. Born: Ali Ahmad Esber in Qassabin, Syria, in 1930. Education: Attended school in Qassabin (in Arabic), and Tarsus, 1943-47 (where he learned French); Lycee in Latakia, 1947-49; studied philosophy at Damascus University, 1950-54; in Paris on French government scholarship, 1960-61; St. Joseph University, Beirut, Ph.D., 1973. Military Service: 1954-55, including 6 months in prison for political activities in the Syrian National Socialist Party. Family: Married Khalida Sa’id, nee Saleh in 1956; two daughters. Career: In Beirut: freelance journalist, 1954-; ran journal Shi’r, which he founded with Yusuf al-Khal, 1957-68; worked for journal Lisan al-Hal, 1965-67; revived short-lived journal Afaq, 1968; founded and ran journal Mawaqif, 1968-94; professor at Lebanese University, 1971-85; thesis supervisor, St. Joseph University, 1971-85. Visiting professor, Damascus University, 1976; associate professor, Sorbonne Nouvelle (Censier-Paris III), France, 1980-81; visiting professor, Georgetown University, 1985; permanent Arab League delegate to UNESCO,Paris, 1986-89; associate professor, University of Geneva, 1989-95; Senior Fellow, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1996-97; Fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, 1998-99. Lives in Courbevoie, France. Awards: Prix des Amis du Livre, Beirut, 1968; Syria-Lebanon award of the International Poetry Forum, Pittsburgh, 1971; National Poetry prize, Lebanon, 1974; Officier des Arts et des Lettres, France, 1984; Grand Prix des Bienniales Internationales de la Poesie, Liege, Belgium, 1986; Prix Jean Malrieu ‘Etranger,’ Marseille, 1991; Feronia-Cita di Fiamo prize, Rome, 1993; Nazim Hikmet prize, Istanbul, 1994; Prix Mediterranee-Etranger, Paris, 1995; Prix du Forum culturel libanais, Paris, 1995; Nonino International prize for literature, Udine, Italy, 1997; Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France, 1997; Struga International Poetry Festival Golden Crown, Macedonia, 1998; Lerici-Pea prize, Italy, 2000.



Diwan Adunis. 2 vols., 1971; reissued as al-A’mal al-shi’riyya al-kamila (also al-Athar al-kamila: shi’r), 1985; revised, enlarged, definitive edition, as al-A’mal al-shi’riyya al-kamila. 3 vols., 1996.


Qalat al-ard. 1952; revised, 1954.

Qasa’id ula. 1957; revised, as Qasa’id ula, 1929-1955: siyagha niha’iyya. 1988.

Awraq fi al-rih. 1958; as Awraq fi mahabb al-rih, 1971; revised, as Awraq fi al-rih (1955-1960): siyagha niha’iyya, 1988; selection in An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, translated by Mounah A. Khouri and Hamid Algar, 1974.

Aghani Mihyar al-Dimashqi. 1961, revised, 1988; selection in Modern Poetry of the Arab World, translated by Abdullah al-Udhari, 1986; selection in Modern Arabic Poetry, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, 1987.

Kitab al-Tahawwulat wa al-hijra fi aqalim al-nahar wa al-layl. 1965; revised as Kitab al-Tahawwulat wa al-hijra fi aqalim al-nahar wa al-layl: siyagha niha’iyya, 1988; selection in The Blood of Adonis, transpositions of selected poems of Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said), 1971; enlarged and expanded as Transformations of the Lover, 1983; revised as The Pages of Day and Night, 1994, all translated by Samuel Hazo, Mirene Ghossein and Kamal Boullata.

Al-Masrah wa al-maraya. 1968; revised as Al-Masrah wa al-maraya (1965-1967): siyagha niha’iyya, 1988; as Mirrors, translated by Abdullah al-Udhari, 1976; selection in When the Words Burn, translated by John M. Asfour, 1992.

Waqt bayna al-ramad wa al-ward. 1970; enlarged, 1972; reissued as Hadha huwa ismi, 1980; revised as Hadha huwa ismi: siyagha niha’iyya, 1988; as A Time between Ashes and Roses, translated by Shawkat M. Toorawa, 2003.

Mufradbi-sighat al-jam’. 1975; revised as Mufradbi-sighat al-jam’: siyagha niha’iyya, 1988; selection in Modern Arab Poets, translated by Issa J. Boullata, 1978.

Kitab al-qasa’id al-khams taliha al-Mutabaqat wa al-awa’il. 1979; revised as al-Mutabaqat wa-al-awa’il: siyagha niha’iyya, 1988; selections as Beginnings, translated by Kamal Boullata and Mirene Ghossein, 1992; selection in Victims of a Map: Mahmud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim, Adonis, translated by Abdullah al-Udhari, 1994.

Kitab al-hisar. 1985; selections in If Only the Sea Could Sleep: Love Poems, translated by Kamal Abu Deeb, 1988.

Shahwa tataqaddam fi khara’it al-madda. 1987.

Ihtifa’an bi al-ashya’ al-wadiha al-ghamida. 1988.

Abjadiyya  thaniyya. 1994.

Fihris li-a’mal al-rih. 1998.

Al-Mahd: lifi turab al-Yaman ‘irqun ma. 2001.

Al-Kitab: ams al-makan al-an. Makhtutah tunsabu ila al-Mutanabbi. 2 vols., 1995, 1998.


Muqaddima li al-shi’r al-’arabi. 1971.

Zaman al-shi’r. 1972; selections as Lapriere et l’epee: essais sur la culture arabe, translated by Leila Khatib and Anne Wade Minkowski, 1993.

Al-Thabit wa al-mutahawwil: bahth fi al-ibda’ wa al-ittiba’ ‘inda al-’arab. 3 vols., 1974, 1977, 1978; revised and enlarged in 4 vols., 1994.

Fatiha li-nihayat al-qarn: bayanat min ajl thaqafa ‘arabiyya jadida. 1980; revised and enlarged, 1998.

Al-shi’riyya al-’arabiyya. 1985; as An Introduction to Arab Poetics, translated by Catherine Cobham, 1990.

Siyasat al-shi ‘r: dirasah fi al-shi ‘riyya al- ‘arabiyya al-mu ‘asira. 1985.

Kalam al-bidayat. 1989.

Al-Sufiyya wa al-suriyaliyya. 1992.

Al-Nass al-qur’ani wa afaq al-kitaba. 1993.

Ha-anta, ayyuha al-waqt: sira shi’riyya thaqafiyya. 1993.

Al-Nizam wa-al-kalam. 1993.

Hiwarma’aAdunis: al-tufula, al-shi’r, al-manfa. 2000.

Editor, Mukhtarat min shi’r Yusuf al-Khal. 1962; as Qasa’idmukhtara, 1964.

Editor, Diwan al-shi’r al-’arabi. 3 vols., 1964-68.

Editor, Mukhtarat min shi’r al-Sayyab. 1967; as Badr Shakir al-Sayyab: qasa’id, 1978.

Editor with Khalida Sa’id, Mukhtarat min al-Kawakibi. 1982.

Editor with Khalida Sa’id, Mukhtarat min shi’r Ahmad Shawqi. 1982.

Editor with Khalida Sa’id, Mukhtarat min al-Imam Muhammad ‘Abduh. 1983.

Editor with Khalida Sa’id, Mukhtarat min Muhammad Rashid Rida. 1983.

Editor with Khalida Sa’id, Mukhtarat min Jamil Sidqi al-Zahawi. 1983.

Editor with Khalida Sa’id, Mukhtarat min al-Shaykh al-Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. 1983.

Translator, Theatre complet, 6 vols., by Georges Schehade. 1972-75; vol. 1 revised, 2000.

Translator, Eloges, La Gloire des rois, Anabase, Exil, Pluies, Poemes a l’etrangere, Amers, by Saint-John Perse, 2 vols. 1976, 1977.

Translator, La Thebaide ou les Freres ennemis, Phedre, by Jean Racine. 1972, 1975; revised 1979.

Translator, L’Oeuvre complete, by Yves Bonnefoy. 1986.

Translator with Anne Wade Minkowski, selections from al-Luzumiyyat, by al-Ma’arri, as Rets d’eternite. 1988.

Translator with Anne Wade Minkowski, al-Mawakib, by Kahlil Gibran, as Le livre des processions. 1998.

With others, al-Islam wa al-hadathah. 1990.

With others, al-Bayanat. 1995.

Critical Studies:

A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry by M.M. Badawi, 1975; ”The perplexity of the all-knowing: A study of Adonis” by Kamal Abu Deeb, in Mundius Artium, vol.10, 1977; ”Adonis: Revolt in Modern Arabic Poetics” by Issa J. Boullata, in Edebiyat, vol. 2, 1977; Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry, by Salma K. Jayyusi, 1977; ”Myth and Symbol in the Poetry of Adunis and Yusuf al-Khal” by Joseph Zeidan, in Journal of Arabic Literature, vol. 10, 1979; ”An Analytical Study of the Adonisian Poem” (unpublished thesis) by Ali Ahmad al-Shar’, 1982; ”Modernity: a Study of Adunis’ theory and poetry” (unpublished thesis) by Mohammad Mohmoud Khazali, 1983; ”The Complex Poem in New Arabic Poetry 1950-1985” (unpublished thesis) by Nayef Khaled El-Hasan, 1985; ”The Metamorphic Vision: The Poetics of Time and History in the Works of Adunis (‘Ali Ahmad Sa’id)” (unpublished thesis) by Teirab Ash Shareef, 1986; ”The Poetic Theories of the Leading Poet-Critics of Arabic New Poetry” (unpublished thesis) by Ahmed Salih al-Tami, 1987; Reading Adonis by Dennis Lee, 1987; ”A Critique of Adonis’s Perspectives on Arabic Literature and Culture” in Studies in Contemporary Arabic Poetry and Criticism by Mounah A. Khouri, 1987; ”Making Mihyar: The Familiarization of Adunis’s Knight of Strange Works” by Adnan Haydar, in Literature East & West, vol. 4, 1988; ”Criticism and the Heritage: Adonis as Advocate of a New Arab Culture” by Mounah Khouri, in Arab Civilization: Challenges and Responses, edited by George N. Atiyeh and Ibrahim M. Oweiss, 1988; ”A critical translation of Waqt bayna al-ramad wa al-ward" (unpublished thesis) by Shawkat M. Toorawa, 1989; special issue of Detours d’ecriture edited by Noel Blandin, 1991; ”Introduction” to When the Words Burn. An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry: 1945-1987 by John M. Asfour, 1992; ”La symbolique du bien et du mal dans la poesie d’Adonis” by Krystyna Skarzynska-Bochenska, in Rocznik Orientalistyczny, vol. 48, 1992; The Poetics of T. S. Eliot and Adunis by Atef Faddul, 1993; ”Upon One Double String: The Metaphysical Element in Adunis’ Poetry” by Terri deYoung, in al-Arabiyya, vol. 27, 1994; ”A Study of Elegy for al-Hallaj by Adunis” by Reuven Snir, in Journal of Arabic Literature, vol. 25, 1994; ”Walt Whitman in Adonis’ Manhattan: Some Thoughts on A Grave for New York" by Shawkat M. Toorawa, in Periodica Islamica, vol. 6, 1996; ‘Adonis’ by Stefan Weidner, in Kritisches Lexicon zur fremdsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur, vol. 41, 1996;”Whitman and Lebanon’s Adonis” by Roger Asselineau and Ed Folsom, in Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 15, 1998; ”Ishmael Must Be Sacrificed: Adunis and the Quest for a New God” by As’ad Khairallah, in Myths, Historical Archetypes and Symbolic Figures in Arabic Literature: Towards a New Hermeneutic Approach, edited by Angelika Neuwirth, 1999; ”A Guardian of Change? The Poetry of Adunis between Hermeticism and Commitment” by Stefan Weidner, in Conscious Voices. Concepts of Writing in the Middle East, edited by Stephan Guth et al., 1999; Adonis le visionnaire: essai et anthologie by Michel Camus, 2000; Adonis. Un poete dans le monde d’aujoud’hui, 1950-2000, edited by Institut du monde arabe, 2000; ”Adonis et la poesie arabe moderne” by Muhammad Jamal Barout, in Adonis: Un poete dans le monde d’aujoud’hui, 1950-2000, edited by Institut dumonde arabe, 2000.


Adonis is the most significant Arab poet of the 20th century. His enormously influential modernist poetic output is rivaled by the quality and impact of his cultural criticism, of his translations from French into Arabic and vice versa, of his critical editions of other poets’ works, and of half a century of grappling with and contributing to the Arabic literary tradition. Adonis has twice been a Nobel prize finalist, and is still, in his seventies, a prolific and major presence on the Arabic and international literary scenes.

Ali Ahmad Esber was born in an ‘Alawite family in Qassabin, a remote mountain village of Syria. His father, a farmer and prayer leader, instructed his son in theology and in classical poetry which the boy memorized effortlessly. At the age of 13, Ali was rewarded by the new Syrian president with a scholarship for a poem he declaimed to him. Thus began Adonis’ instruction in French, though he continued to write in Arabic. His first poem to appear in print (1947) was under the nom de plume, Adonis, that of the Near Eastern divinity of fertility, harvest and renewal—this is the name he has used since. The death and rebirth represented by the god Adonis would become, and remain, central to Adonis’ poetic vision of transformation and renewal (tajdid), advocated and actualized in free verse, and in ”new poetry” (al-shi’r al-jadid). The closing sentiment of his 1998 revision of a 1980 collection of essays, Fatiha li-nihayat al-qarn [Introduction to the Century's Endings], reads: ”Let this topic’s new edition, then, be a hand extended toward the many other hands which are igniting the flames of transformation.”

Adonis’ first publication, Qalat al-ard [The Earth Said], appeared in his final undergraduate year at the University of Damascus, where he studied philosophy and where he developed an enthusiasm for French authors, directly and also through his reading of Arabic poets such as Ilyas Abu Shabaka, who greatly appreciated Baudelaire, and Sa’id ‘Aql, who admired Mallarme. Adonis’ conscription in the Syrian army and the several months he spent in jail for political activities, in particular for support of the Ba’athist party of Antun Sa’ada, would impel him to leave for Beirut in 1956 with his future wife, literary critic Khalida Saleh. Adonis would not return to Syria, but the influence of Sa’ada would remain. Not only did Adonis develop political and social beliefs in the company of Sa’ada but it was Sa’ada who made Adonis acutely aware of the importance of myth and history to literature, something he would discover in Eliot too. In 1957, Adonis published Qasa’id ula [First Poems] and that same year founded, with the Lebanese poet, critic and translator Yusuf al-Khal, the poetry journal Shi’r [Poetry], which for two decades would be the leading avant-garde forum for Arabic letters. Adonis kept company with, and published, countless poets, including Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, Fadwa Tuqan, Nazik al-Mala’ika, Michel Trad, and of course al-Khal; Adonis later edited selections of the poetry of al-Sayyab and al-Khal.

In spite of the quality and volume of the journal Shi’r's output, and the publication of Awraqfi al-rih [Leaves in the Wind], which reveals the poet’s early attempts to fuse the Arabic and French literary traditions, it was the year 1961 that would propel Adonis’s career. He spent 1960-61 in Paris where he met Aragon, Prevert, Michaux and others, and would begin there the collection many critics (including Adonis himself) consider one of his finest and most important, Aghani Mihyar al-Dimashqi [The Songs of Mihyar of Damascus]. In Aghani, Adonis sought new flames from old fires, sought to rekindle language from the stuff of the Arabic and Islamic heritage. In 1961 Adonis also delivered a paper at a conference in Rome in which he indicted the past, and famously asserted that ”it is an essential task of poetry to be prophecy and vision, to break through closed horizons in order to emerge onto a wider world,” and in which he downplayed the Nahda, the 19th century Arab renaissance, calling it ”nothing but new ornamentation in old colors, a continuation of a traditional cycle in which no breach was effected, no window opened,” but exempting the Mahjar writers who emigrated to the Americas, such as Amin Rihani, and Kahlil Gibran, whom he admired. Not content merely to observe this as a critic, Adonis spent the sixties revisiting the canon in his three-volume Diwan al-shi’r al-’arabi [Anthology of Arabic Poetry]. In the early eighties, with his wife’s collaboration, Adonis edited six volumes of poetry and prose by Nahda writers.

In the 1970s Adonis published prolifically. The introspective triad of poems in Waqt bayna al-ramad wa al-ward (A Time between Ashes and Roses) addressed the issues of Arab defeat and defeatism, occasioned by the losses of 1967 Arab-Israeli War; called into question the opposition East/West by appropriating Whitman and the American modernist tradition; and by attempting to fashion a new poetic language. The often inscrutable ideas and poetry of Mufrad bi-sighat al-jam’ [Singular in the Form of Plural], which would find echoes later in Abjadiyya thaniya [A Second Alphabet], earned Adonis the reputation for abstruseness and opacity. But he did not only write poetry: his doctoral thesis, al-Thabit wa al-mutahawwil [The Fixed and the Moving], written at St. Joseph University in Beirut where he taught for 15 years, and translations of important Francophone writers also appeared. In the former Adonis engaged in a controversial and wide-ranging analysis of what he deemed the stifling effect of Islam’s theologies of political and artistic control. This is not to say that Adonis’ writing is not informed by a profound knowledge of Islam; indeed, he has a special affection for its esoteric and mystical dimensions. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to find ‘Ali, the first Shi’ite Imam, a recurring persona in Adonis’ poetry. Present also is the 10th century author and mystic al-Niffari, the title of whose Kitab al-Mawaqif wa al-mukhatabat [The Book of Spiritual Stations and Addresses] was the inspiration for Mawaqif, the influential cultural and literary journal founded by Adonis in 1968.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Adonis continued to publish poetry, criticism, editions, and translations. He left war-torn Beirut for Paris, serving at UNESCO and teaching in France and Switzerland. The poems of Shahwa tataqaddam fi khara’it al-madda [A Desire Advancing in the Maps of Matter] and other collections take up many of the early questions, questions that Adonis tackled also in such essays as al-Shi’riyya al-’arabiyya (An Introduction to Arab Poetics), the first prose volume by Adonis to be translated into English. In 1988, Adonis edited and reissued definitive editions of his early collections, and followed these with al-Sufiyya wa al-suriyaliyya [Sufism and Surrealism], in which he attempted to show that Islamic mysticism and European surrealism share similar sources. His study al-Nass al-qur’ani wa afaq al-kitaba [The Quranic Text and the Horizons of Writing] set the stage for a poetic enterprise of considerable daring, al-Kitab [The Book], which, as its subtitle shows, he ‘attributes’ to the formidable 10th century poet al-Mutanabbi (Ams al-makan al-an. Makhtutah tunsabu ila al-Mutanabbi). In 1993 Adonis produced his first autobographical work. In 2000 the Institut du monde arabe in Paris, long a friend of Adonis’ poetry and art, organized a retrospective exhibition of his work. In the intervening years Adonis received distinguished poetry prizes and fellowships all over the world. Adonis has not put down the pen and is not likely to: a new poetry collection appeared in 2001.

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