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Adonis Cracow Poland May12 2011 Fot Mariusz Kubik 01.JPG
Syrian poet
Born Ali Ahmad Said Esber
(1930-01-01) January 1, 1930 (age 85)
Al Qassabin, Latakia, French Syria
Pen name Adonis
Occupation Writer
Language Arabic
Nationality Syrian
Period Second half of 20th century[1]
Genre Essay, Poem
Literary movement Modernism[1]
Notable awards Bjørnson Prize
Goethe Prize

Ali Ahmad Said Esber (Arabic: علي أحمد سعيد إسبر‎; transliterated: alî ahmadi sa'îdi asbar or Ali Ahmad Sa'id; born 1 January 1930), also known by the pen name Adonis or Adunis (Arabic: أدونيس), is a Syrian poet, essayist and translator. He has written more than twenty books and volumes of poetry in the Arabic language as well as translated several works from French.

Imprisoned in Syria in the mid-1950s as a result of his beliefs, Adunis settled abroad and has made his career largely in Lebanon and France. A perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature,[2] he has been regularly nominated for the award since 1988[3] and has been described as the greatest living poet of the Arab world.[4]


Early life and education[edit]

Ali Ahmad Said Asbar was born in Al Qassabin, Latakia, in Northern Syria, to an Alawite family.[5] From an early age, he worked in the fields, but his father regularly had him memorise poetry, and he began to compose poems of his own. In 1947, he had the opportunity to recite a poem for President Shukri al-Kuwatli of Syria; that led to a series of scholarships, first to a school in Latakia and then to the Syrian University in Damascus, where he received a degree in Philosophy in 1954. He helped in editing the cultural supplement of El-Thawra newspaper ( The Revolution newspaper) but pro government writers clashed with his agenda and forced him to flee the country.[citation needed]


The name Adonis was not given to Said by Antun Saadeh, the leader of the radical Pan-Syrian, Syrian Social Nationalist Party, as some believe. Rather, at age 17 he picked it himself after being rejected by a number of magazines under his real name, to "alert napping editors to his precocious talent and his pre-Islamic, pan-Mediterranean muses".[4] In 1955, Said was imprisoned for six months for being a member of that party.

Beirut / Paris[edit]

Following his release from prison in 1956, he settled in Beirut, Lebanon, where in 1957 he and the Syro-Lebanese poet Yusuf al-Khal founded the magazine Majallat Shi'r ("Poetry Magazine") that met with strong criticism as they published experimental poetry.[6] Majallat Shi’r ceased publication in 1964, and Adunis did not rejoin the Shi’r editors when they resumed publication in 1967. In Lebanon, his intense nationalistic feelings, reflecting pan-Arabism focused on the Arab peoples as a nation, found their outlet in the Beiruti newspaper Lisan al-Hal and eventually in his founding of another literary periodical in 1968 titled Mawaqif, in which he again published experimental poetry.[7]

Adunis's poems continued to express the poet's nationalistic views combined with his mystical outlook. With his use of Sufi terms (the technical meanings of which were implied rather than explicit), Adunis became a leading exponent of the Neo-Sufi trend in modern Arabic poetry. This trend took hold in the 1970s.[8]

Adunis received a scholarship to study in Paris from 1960-1961. From 1970 to 1985 he was professor of Arabic literature at the Lebanese University. In 1976, he was a visiting professor at the University of Damascus. In 1980, he emigrated to Paris to escape the Lebanese Civil War. In 1980-1981, he was professor of Arabic at the Sorbonne in Paris.

On 27 January 1995, after Syrian pressure, it was announced in Damascus that he had been expelled from the Arab Writers Union.[9]

In August 2011, Adunis called in an interview in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Rai for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down because of his role in the Syrian civil war.[10] He has also called upon the opposition to shun violence and engage in dialogue with the regime.[11]


Adunis is a pioneer of modern Arabic poetry. He is often seen as a rebel, an iconoclast who follows his own rules. "Arabic poetry is not the monolith this dominant critical view suggests, but is pluralistic, sometimes to the point of self-contradiction."[12] Adunis's work has been analysed and illuminated by the pre-eminent Arab critic Kamal Abu-Deeb, with whom he edited the journal Mawakif in Beirut in the 1970s.

After a trip to New York in 1971, Adunis wrote the poem "The Funeral of New York", which opens:

Picture the earth as a pear
or breast.
Between such fruits and death
survives an engineering trick:
New York,
Call it a city on four legs
heading for murder
while the drowned already moan
in the distance.
New York is a woman
holding, according to history,
a rag called liberty with one hand
and strangling the earth with the other.

After the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer instead of Adunis in the year of the Arab Spring, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Peter Englund said it was not awarded based on politics, describing such a notion as “literature for dummies”.[13]

Adunis has helped to spread Tranströmer's fame in the Arab world, accompanying him on readings.[14]

Awards and honours[edit]

List of works[edit]

Adunis has written over twenty books in the Arabic language. Several of his poetry collections have been translated into English. Khaled Mattawa’s translation of Adonis: Selected Poems has been shortlisted for the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize.


_______Banipal Interview. No. 2, June, 1998. default.asp?action=article&ID=43

_______"Language, Culture, Reality." The View From Within: Writers and Critics on Contemporary Arabic Literature: A Selection from Alif Journal of Contemporary Poetics ed. Ferial J. Ghazoul and Barbara Harlow. The American University in Cairo Press, 1994.

_______Sufism and Surrealism. (trans. Judith Cumberbatch.) Saqi Books: London, 2005.

_______Transformations of the Lover. (trans. Samuel Hazo.) International Poetry Series, Volume 7. Ohio University Press: Athens, Ohio, 1982.

_______Victims of A Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry.(trans. Abdullah Al-Udhari.) Saqi Books: London, 1984. A Time Between Ashes and Roses (trans. Sharkat M. Toorawa)

Literary criticism and essays
  • “The Poet of Secrets and Roots, The Ḥallājian Adūnis” [Arabic]. Al-Ḍaw’ al-Mashriqī: Adūnis ka-mā Yarāhu Mufakkirūn wa-Shu‘arā’ ‘Ālamiyyūn [The Eastern Light: Adūnīs in the Eye of International Intellectuals and Poets] Damascus: Dār al-Ṭalī‘a, 2004: 177-179.
  • “‘Poète des secrets et des racines’: L’Adonis hallajien”. Adonis: un poète dans le monde d’aujourd’hui 1950-2000. Paris: Institut du monde arabe, 2000: 171-172.
  • Religion, Mysticism and Modern Arabic Literature. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006.
  • “A Study of ‘Elegy for al-Ḥallāj’ by Adūnīs”. Journal of Arabic Literature 25.2, 1994: 245-256.


  1. ^ a b "Griffin Poetry Prize 2011: International Shortlist". 
  2. ^ McGrath, Charles (17 October 2010). "A Revolutionary of Arabic Verse". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 October 2010. Every year around this time the name of the Syrian poet Adonis pops up in newspapers and in betting shops. Adonis (pronounced ah-doh-NEES), a pseudonym adopted by Ali Ahmad Said Esber in his teens as an attention getter, is a perennial favorite to win the Nobel Prize in Literature... as is the case with so many recent winners, most Americans have never heard of him. 
  3. ^ Pickering, Diego Gómez (11 November 2010). "Adonis speaks to Forward: The living legend of Arab poetry". Forward. Retrieved 11 November 2010. Last month, Adonis was robbed again of a Nobel Prize, after first being nominated in 1988. 
  4. ^ a b Jaggi, Maya (27 January 2012). "Adonis: a life in writing". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 27 January 2012. ...each autumn is credibly tipped for the Nobel in literature... 
  5. ^ "Adonis". Lexicorient. 
  6. ^ Moreh, Shmuel. Modern Arabic Poetry 1800-1970: The Development of its Forms and Themes under the Influence of Western Literature. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976: 278-280; 285; 288.
  7. ^ Snir, Reuven. “Mysticism and Poetry in Arabic Literature”. Orientalia Suecana XLIII-XLIV (1994-5) 165-175. V. Sufi Terms in the Service of Social Values, 171-3.
  8. ^ Butt, Aviva. “Adunis, Mysticism and the Neo-Sufi Trend.” Poets from a War Torn World. SBPRA, 2012: 2-7.
  9. ^ Ibrahim, Youssef M. (7 March 1995). "Arabs Split on Cultural Ties to Israel". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 March 1995.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  10. ^ "Prominent Syrian poet Adunis calls on Assad to step down". Monsters and Critics. 6 August 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011. 
  11. ^ "Constitution-building: The long march", The Economist, 13 July 2013.
  12. ^ An Introduction to Arab Poetics, p. 10
  13. ^ Kite, Lorien (6 October 2011). "Sweden’s ‘buzzard’ poet wins Nobel Prize". Financial Times. Retrieved 6 October 2011. Before Thursday’s announcement, there had also been much speculation that the committee would choose to honour the Syrian poet Adonis in a gesture towards the Arab spring. Englund dismissed the notion that there was a political dimension to the prize; such an approach, he said, was “literature for dummies”. 
  14. ^ "Adonis: Transtromer is deeply rooted in the land of poetry". Al-Ahram. 6 October 2011. Retrieved 6 October 2011. 
  15. ^ "Syrian poet Adonis wins Germany's Goethe prize". Reuters. 25 May 2011. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  16. ^ "Janus Pannonius Prize goes to Adonis and Yves Bonnefoy". Hungarian Literature Online. September 4, 2014. Retrieved September 5, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Arab poet Adonis wins Asan award". The Hindu Online. April 7, 2015. Retrieved April 7, 2015. 
  • Irwin, Robert "An Arab Surrealist". The Nation, January 3, 2005, 23–24, 37–38.

External links[edit]

Articles and interviews