menengok adonis lagi, …

Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said) (1930- ) Imprimir Correo


[This biography is written by Kamal Abu-Deeb, in J. S. Meisami & P. Starkey (eds.), Encyclopedia of Arabic literature, (Routledge, 1998).]

Syrian poet and literary critic (‘Ali Ahmad Sa’id). Born in Qassabin, Adonis studied philosophy at Damascus University and at St Joseph University in Beirut, where he obtained his Doctorat d’Etat in 1973. After his arbitrary imprisonment for six months in 1955 for political activities and membership of the Syrian National Socialist Party, he settled in Lebanon in 1956, later becoming a Lebanese national. He received a scholarship to study in Paris in 1960-1. From 1970 to 1985 he was professor of Arabic literature at the Lebanese University; in 1976 he held a visiting professorship at Damascus University, and in 1980-1 was professor of Arabic at the Sorbonne (Paris III). He has also taught and lectured in a number of other Western universities. He returned to Paris to live in 1985.

Adonis’s formative years were strongly influenced by the teachings of Antun Sa’ada, and by the new poetic sensibility which had been developed by such poets as Jubran Khahlil Jubran, Ilyas Abu Shabaka, Sa’id ‘Aql and Salah Labaki; he had also been educated in the classical traditions of Arabic literature by his father, a learned man steeped in ancient Arab culture and Islamic theology. Until the late 1950s, his poetry represented an attempt to fuse these early sources, as he tried also to give poetic expression to his political and social beliefs – specifically, the quest for national identity and the drive to achieve the ‘great leap forward’ of Arab society. It is to Sa’ada rather than T.S. Eliot that he owes his awareness of the importance for poetry of myth and history – poetry being seen by Adonis and many of his contemporaries as having a vital role in the response to the challenge of the West. Particularly after the loss of Palestine in 1948, the ‘new poetry’ began its ascendance, taking the form initially of a rebellion against traditional rhythmic and prosodic forms. Adonis’s role in the evolution of free verse was crucial; at the same time, he wanted to maintain for poetry an autonomous space and a refined language that refused to descend to the level of daily speech. The turning-point, both for Adonis and for modern Arabic poetry as a whole, came with Aghani Mihyar al-Dimashqi (1961), in which he achieved a balance between poetry’s Socio-political role and the demands of a symbolic ‘language of absence’ which poetry, as he saw it, required. Although his subsequent poetry has become richer and more experimental, in the view of many it has never surpassed Mihyar. His most complex work, the 400-page Mufrad bi-Sighat al-jam’ is a dazzling piece of writing, but one which has remained closed world to the majority of readers.

Both as a poet and a theorist on poetry, and as a thinker with a radical vision of Arab culture, Adonis has exercised a powerful influence both on his contemporaries and on younger generations of Arab poets. His name has become synonymous with the Hadatha (modernism) which his poetry embodies. Critical works such as Zaman al-shi r (1972) are landmarks in the history of literary criticism in the Arab world. His role in providing platforms for modernist literature has also been significant. In 1957 he joined Yusuf al-Khal in founding the avant-garde journal Shi’r and in 1968 established the equally influential, though more culturally and politically orientated, journal Mawaqif.

Adonis’s critical statements on poetry lack the controlled tone of academic criticism, but possess the power and missionary-spirit of a pioneer and visionary. Well-acquainted with |Western literary traditions, he has produced some fine and influential translations of European (mainly French) poetry and drama. Of particular importance are his translations (or, more accurately, renderings) of the poetry of St John Perse and the dramatic works of Georges Schehadeh. His most lasting work, however, will undoubtedly be his own poetry, at the heart of which lies a desire to change the world and to bring about a fundamental transformation of language; these two realms in Adonis’s vision are so intertwined that changing the one without the other is impossible. The impulse behind both is the same: his sense of the stagnation of his society and its culture – including language and poetry – and his vision of history as a corpse, a burden which has to be shed by a spirit searching for a creative role for man in history. This theme manifests itself in a varied range of imagery, finding one of its most vivid embodiments in an early poem entitled ‘al-Ba’th wa-al ramad’.

At times, Adonis’s poetry is both revolutionary and anarchic; at other times, it approaches the mystical. His mysticism derives essentially from the writings of the Sufi poets. Here he aspires to reveal the underlying unity between the contradictory aspects of man’s existence and the fundamental similarity of the outwardly dissimilar elements of the universe. But although his poetry appears to be polarized between the mystical and the revolutionary, it often dissolves these two poles into a single harmonized vision, which gives his work its distinctive character. His struggle to invent a new poetic language and his aspiration to change Socio-political realities often fuse to produce a new poetics- a poetics which asserts the power of human creativity to reveal the hidden (al-batin) enshrouded by the manifest (al-zahir). In this respect, his upbringing within t he Shi’ite tradition has had a decisive influence on his work. It is these aspects of his poetry which often bring it close to the poetry I of the French symbolists and to European surrealism; indeed, he has argued (e.g. in al-sufiyya wa-al-suryaliyya, 1992) that the deeper sources from which symbolism and surrealism flow are identical to those of Sufism.

The lucidity, elegance, and the opulence of the rhythmic structure of some of Adonis’s early poetry contrast sharply with the complexity and L absence of regular rhythmic patterning of some of his later poems. He is a poet of paradoxes and extremes, who seems to transcend himself in every new work. Recently, he advocated ‘writing’ as opposed to ‘poetry’, suggesting that a poetic text should go beyond the traditional concept of genre to become a total poem incorporating a multiplicity of levels, languages, forms and rhythmic structures.

In everything he has produced, Adonis reveals his mastery of language and the power to structure a text in the manner of a skilful architect. Some of his more recent poetry has lost the abstractness of his work of the 1970s; it has also lost the lyricism of, for example, Aghani Mihyar al-Dimashqi, in which he uses the figure of Mihyar the Damascene as a poetic persona through which to articulate his vision of the world. He has also displayed a new fondness for the ‘poetry of place’, in contrast to the ‘poetry of time’ which dominated his earlier work: in his later texts, places like Marrakech, Fez, Cairo and Sana’a occur more often as specific places with their own powerful material presence and distinct personalities. Above all, what distinguishes his poetry is a tone of quest and a refusal to accept present reality: he is the master of the incomplete, one of his recent volumes consisting of a series of poems, the title of each of which contains the phrase ‘awwalu al-…’ (‘The beginning of . . .’). Adonis has remained uncompromisingly adventurous well into his sixties. His al-Kitab (1995) – invoking the name of the holy Koran – has a complex structure dividing the page into four sections of texts and margins, each representing a different aspect of Arab history and employing a different voice, centred on the personality and experience of al Mutanabbii. This spirit of adventure has kept his work at the forefront of the modernist movement and rendered his poetry uniquely relevant to the work of younger generations.

Text editions

The Blood of Adonis, S. Hazo (trans.), Pittsburgh (1971).

An Introduction to Arab Poetics, C. Cobham (trans.), London (1990).

M, A. al-Udhari (trans.), London (1976). Orof Desire, K. Abu-Deeb (trans.), Newcastle (1998).

Transformations of the Lover, S. Hazo (trans.), Ohio (1983).

Victims of a Map, A. al-Udhari (trans.), London (1984).

Further reading

Abu-Deeb, K., ‘The perplexity of the all-knowing’, Mundus Artium, I/x, Houston (1977).


Songs of Mihyar the Damamscene
A voice

Mihyar is a face
betrayed by its lovers.
Mihyar is bells
without chinning

Mihyar is inscribed upon the faces,
a song which visits us secretly
on white, exiled roads.

Mihyar is bells of wanderers
in this Galilean land.

A Vision /1

put on the mask of burnt wood,
0, Babel of fire and mysteries.
I await the god who comes
draped in flames,
adorned with pearls
stolen from oysters
out of the lung of the sea.,
l await the god who feels perplexed
rages, weeps, bows and glows.
your face, 0, Mihyar,
heralds the coming god


A king is Mihyar
A king-
the dream is his palace
and gardens of fire.

And today,
a dying voice complained about him
to words.
A king is Mihyar.
In the kingdom of the wind he lives, and in the land of mysteries he reigns.

The Adoring Rock

The wandering is over,
and the road
is an adoring rock.

Here we are,
burying the corpse of the day,
draped in the winds of tragedy.

But tomorrow we shall shake
The trunks of the forest of palms.
And tomorrow we shall wash
the body of the slender god
with the blood of the thunderbolt,
and construct the tenuous lines
between our eyelids and the road.

The Two Corpses

I buried in your subservient entrails,
in the head, the hands and eyes,
a minaret;
I buried two corpses,
the Earth and the sky.

0, tribe,
0, womb of wasps,
and null of the wind.


but staying still.
0, sun,
how do I attain the skill
of your footsteps?

I Said Unto You

I said unto you:
I listened to the seas
reading to me their verses
I listened to the bells
slumbering inside the oyster shells.
I said unto you:
I sang my songs
at Satans wedding
and the feast of the fable.
I said unto you:
I beheld,
in the rain of history
and the glow of the distance
a fairy and a dwelling.
Because I sail in my eyes,
I said unto you, I beheld
in the first step of the distance.


We die unless we create the gods.
We die unless we murder the gods.
0, kingdom of the bewildered rock.

A Land Of No Return

Even if you return, 0, Odysseus;
even if spaces close around you,
and the guide is burnt to ashes
in your bereaved face
or your friendly terror,
you will remain a history of wandering,
you will remain in a land of no promise,
you will remain in a land of no return.
Even if you return,
0, Odysseus;

A Homeland

To faces which wither under the mask of melancholy,
I bow.
To roads on which I forgot my tears,
to a father who died as green as a cloud
with a sail upon his face,
I bow
And to a child who is sold
in order to pray and polish shoes,
(in my country, we all pray and polish shoes),
and to rocks upon which I carved with my hunger
that they were lightning and rain
rolling under my eyelids,
and to a house whose soil I carried in my wanderings,
I bow.
All these are my homeland
Not Damascus.

King Of The Winds

My banner is an end.
it neither fraternizes
nor meets half-way.
An end are my songs.
Here I am,
amassing the flowers,
alerting the trees,
erecting the sky as a colonnade,
loving, living and getting born
in my words.
Here I am,
gathering the butterflies
under the morning’s banner,
nurturing the fruits,
and dwelling with rain
in the clouds and their bells,
in the seas.
Here I am,
sailing the stars
and anchoring them,
and crowning myself
king of the winds.


0, bliss of treason
0, world which stretches in my footsteps
as an abyss and pools of fire
0, ancient corpse
0, world which I betrayed
and still betray.
I am that drowning figure
whose eyelids pray
to the roar of the waters.
And I am that god
who blesses the land of crime.
I am a traitor,
I sell my life
to the Satanic path.
I am the lord of treachery.

The Flood /2

Go, pigeon, go.
We do not want you to return.
They have surrendered their flesh to the rocks,
and I – here I am
sliding towards the deepest point,
entangled in the Ark’s sails.
Our flood is a planet
that does not revolve,
ravaging and ancient –
In it we might scent
the god of buried centuries.
So, go, pigeon, go.
We do not want you to return.


We bade you farewell years ago,
we bade you the repenting elegy,
0, halo of dead angels,
0, language of fugitive locusts.

The words are packed with mud.
The words have adorned themselves
with labor pains.

Our absent wombs return to us.
And here are the rains, here are the floods.
0, language of debris and ruins,
0, halo of dead angels.

You Have No Choice

What? Then you destroy the face of the Earth
and carve for it another face.
What? Then you have no choice
but the path of fire
and the hell of rejection,
when the Earth is no more
a guillotine or a god.
Today I have my Language
I have destroyed my kingdom,
destroyed my throne, my courts and colonnades.
And, borned over my lung,
I roamed in quest,
teaching the seas my rains, granting them
my fire and incense-burner,
and writing the time to come
on my lips.
And today I have my language,
my frontiers, my land and indelible mark,
and I have my peoples,
who nurture me on their uncertainty
and find their light
in my ruins and wings.


0, Phoenix, I pray
that you remain in the ashes,
that you don’t glimpse the light or rise.
We’ve neither experienced your night
nor sailed across the darkness.
0, Phoenix, I pray
that the magic die,
that our rendezvous be in
the fire and the ashes.
0, Phoenix, I pray
that madness be our guide.

Between Your Eyes and Mine

When I drown my eyes in your eyes,
I glimpse the deepest dawning
and see the ancient times;
I see what I do not comprehend
and feel the universe flowing
between your eyes and none.


Who are you? Whom do you choose, 0, Mihyar?
Wherever you go, there is God or Satan’s abyss
an abyss coming, an abyss going.
And the world is choice.
I choose neither God nor Satan.
Each is a wall.
Each closes my eyes.
Why replace one wall by another,
when my perplexity is the perplexity of the
the perplexity of the all-knowing?

An Elegy for Al-Hallaj

Your green poisonous plume,
your plume whose veins are filled with flames,
with the star rising from Baghdad,
is our history and imminent resurrection
in our land – in our repeated death.
Time lay upon your hands.
And the fire in your eyes
is sweeping, reaching the sky.
0, star rising from Baghdad,
laden with poetry and new birth,
0, poisonous green plume.
Nothing is left
for those coming from afar
with the echo and death and ice
in this land of resurrection.
Nothing is left but you and the presence.
0, you the language of Galilean thunder
in this land of discarded skins.
You, poet of the roots and mysteries.

The Fall

I live between the plague and the fire
with my language,
with these speechless worlds.
I live in heaven and gardens of apples,
in the first ecstasy and despair,
between the hands of Eve –
Lord of that accursed Tree,
and lord of the fruits.
I live between the clouds and sparks.
in a stone that grows and grows,
in a book that teaches
the secrets and the Fall.

The Language Of Sin

I burn my inheritance, I say:
“My land is virgin, and no graves in my youth.”
I transcend both God and Satan
(my path goes beyond the paths of God and Satan).
I go across in my book,
in the procession of the luminous thunderbolt,
the procession of the green thunderbolt,
“After me there’s no Paradise, no Fall,”
and abolishing the language of sin.


A lover rolling in the darkness of Hell
like a stone, I am.
But I shine.
I have a date with the priestesses
in the bed of the ancient god.
My words are tempests that rattle life,
and sparks are my songs.
I am a language for a god to come,
I am the sorcerer of dust.

To Sisyphus

I vowed to write upon water,
I vowed to bear with Sisyphus
his speechless rock.
I vowed to stay with Sisyphus
suffering the fevers and the sparks,
and seeking in blind eyes
a last plume
that writes for autumn and grass
the poem of dust.
I vowed to live with Sisyphus.

The Face Of A Woman

I dwell in the face of a woman
who dwells in a wave
flung by the tide
to a shore that has lost it s harbor
in its shells.
I live in the face of a woman
who murders me,
who desires to be
a dead beacon
in my blood sailing
to the very end of madness.

The Lantern

In the midday sun
he carries his lantern,
searching for a human soul.
No sand in his eyes,
wearing the sandals of dust.
He walks in a barrel,
Ws hands are his quilt.
– And you, what?
– I have no eyes.
Between me and my brothers uses Cain.
Between me and the Other roars the flood.
When night and daylight fall asleep,
I steal by the blood-thirsty butcher.
I walk –
dust walking behind me
but I carry no lantern.


– ‘Who are you? From what peaks have you
0, virgin language, which only you understand.
What’s your name? What banner
have you carried or discarded?”

Asks Alkenos,
desiring to unveil the face of the dead man.
She asks from what peaks I have descended,
asks about my name –
My name is Odysseus.
I come from a land with no bounds,
carried on people’s backs.
I was lost here, was lost there,
with my verses.
And here I am, in the terror and withering,
knowing neither how to stay
nor how to return.

Translated by Kamal Abu-Deeb


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