Adunis: see Adonis, Syrian poet.

Ali Ahmad Said Asbar (Arabic: علي أحمد سعيد إسبر; transliterated: alî ahmadi s-sacîdi l-'asbar or Ali Ahmad Sa'id) (born 1930), also known by the pseudonym Adonis or Adunis (Arabic: أدونيس), is a Syrian poet and essayist who has made his career largely in Lebanon and France. He has written more than twenty books in his native Arabic.

Early life, education, and start of career

He was born in Al Qassabin, Latakia, in Northern Syria, to an Alawite family. From an early age, he worked in the fields, but his father regularly had him memorize poetry, and he began to compose poems of his own. In 1947, he had the opportunity to recite a poem for Syrian president Shukri al-Kuwatli; 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.

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, he picked it himself after being rejected by a number of magazines under his real name. In 1955, Said was imprisoned for six months for being a member of that party. Following his release from prison in 1956, he settled in Beirut, Lebanon, where in 1957 he and Syro-Lebanese poet Yusuf al-Khal founded the magazine Shi'r ("Poetry"). At this time, he abandoned Syrian nationalism in favor of pan-Arabism; he also became a less political writer.

Adonis received a scholarship to study in Paris from 1960-1961. From 1970 to 1985 he was professor of Arabic literature at the University of Lebanon. 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.


Adonis 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. Adonis' work is best appreciated 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, Adonis 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.

Adonis was considered to be a candidate for the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature, but the awards went to British playwright Harold Pinter, Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, British novelist Doris Lessing and French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio.

In 2007 he was awarded the Bjørnson Prize.


Said has written over twenty books in his native Arabic. Several of his poetry collections have been translated into English.


Transformations of the Lover. (trans. Samuel Hazo.) International Poetry Series, Volume 7. Ohio University Press: Athens, Ohio, 1982. An Introduction to Arab Poetics. (trans. Catherine Cobham.) Saqi Books: London, 1990.

_______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

  • An Introduction to Arab Poetics (2000) ISBN 0-86356-301-5


  • Irwin, Robert "An Arab Surrealist". The Nation, January 3, 2005, 23–24, 37–38.

External links

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