November 27, 2008


Adonis [Ali Ahmad Sa’id] [b. Syria/Lebanon]

Ali Ahmad Sa’id was born in 1930 in a Syrian village overlooking the Mediterreanean. Educated at home by his father, the young Adonis (a pen name he adopted at age seventeen) was schooled in the Koran and in Arab culture. When the first president of the newly independent republic, Shukri al-Kuwatli, visited the nearby town of Jableh, then 14-year old Adonis insisted on reading a poem he had written for the occasion. Asked what he wanted, Adonis responded, “I want to go to school,” and within a week the president had arranged for him to attend a French-run high school.

After the French lycée in Tartus and university studies in Damascus, Adonis had to fill a term of military service, but because of his political activities he spent much of time in prison. In 1956 Adonis and his wife made their way to Beirut, and in 1960 became Lebanese citizens. With Yussef el-Khal he founded the influential review Ch’ir and wrote many of his major early collections, including Qālat al-ard, Qasā’id ūlā, and Awrāq fi al-rīh.

In 1980 he accepted a post of associate professor at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle, where throughout the 1980s he lectured on Arab poetics.

Adonis’ poetry and prose has aroused a great deal of controversy through the Arab world because of the provocative content of his works and his experimental poetics. Although grounded in traditional poetic styles, Adonis has transformed his poetry into a new way of expressing contemporary sentiment. He has published numerous collections of poetry, edited major anthologies, and written several books of criticism. He has been nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature many times over the past few years. In 2014 the poet was awarded was is often described as the "Nobel Prize of the poets," the Janus Pannonius Grand Prize for Poetry.


Dalīla (Damascus: Matba‘at ibn Zaydūn, 1950); Qālat al-ard (Damascus: Matba‘at ibn Zaydūn, 1952; revised 1954); Qaşā’id ūlā (Beirut: Dār Majallat Shi‘r, 1957; revised as Qusā’id ūlā udīfa ilayhā qaşā’id lam tunshar, 1963 and 1988); Awrāq fi al-rīh (Beirut: Dār Majallat Shi‘r, 1958; revised 1988); Aghānī Mihyār al-Dimashqī (Beirut: Dār Majallat Shi‘r, 1961; revised 1988); Kitāb al-Tahawwulāt wa al-hijra fi aqālīm al-nahā wa al-layl (Beirut: al-Maktabaat al-‘Asiyya, 1965; revised 1988); al-Masrah wa al-marāyā (Beirut: Dāar al-Ādāb, 1968; revised, 1988); Waqt bayna al-ramād wa al-ward(Beirut: Manshūrāt Mawāt Mawāqif/Dār al-‘Awda, 1970; enlarged, 1972; revised as Hādha huwa ismī (Beirut: Dār al-Ādāb, 1980, 1988); Dīwān Adūnīs (Beirut: Dār al-‘Awda, 1971; reissued as al-A’māl al-shi’riyya al-kāmila and al-Āthār al-kāmila: shi‘r, 1985; revised and enlarged, 1996); Mufrad bi-sīghat al-jam‘ (Beirut: Dār al-‘Awda, 1975; revised, 1988); Kitāb al-qasā’id al-khams talīhā al-Mutābaqāt wa al-awā’il (Beirut: Dār al-‘Awda, 1970; revised 1988); Kitāb al-Hisār: Hazīrān 85 (Beirut: Dār al-‘Ādāb, 1985); Shahwa tataqaddam fi kharā’it al-mādda (Casablanca: Dār Tūqāl li al-Nashr, 1987); Ihtifā’an bi al-ashyā’ al-wādiha al-ghāmida (Beirut: Dār al-‘Ādāb, 1988); Abjadiyya thāniya (Casablanca: Dār Tūqāl li al-Nashr, 1994); al-Kitāb (ams al-makān al-ān. Makhtūtah tunsabu ilā al-Mutanabbi, vol 1 (London: Dār al-Sāqī, 1995); Fihris li-a‘māl al-rīh (Beirut: Dār al-Nahār, 1998); al-Kitāb, vol 2 (London: Dār al-Sāqī, 1998); al-Mahd (lī fī turāb al-Yaman ‘irqun mā) (Sana’a: Al-Hay’a al-‘Āmma li al-Kitāb, 2001).


The Blood of Adonis, Transpositions of Selected Poems of Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said), trans. by Samuel Hazo, Mirène Ghossein, and Kamal Boullatai (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971); Selected poems in An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry, 195-99 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974); Mirrors, trans. by Abdullah al-Udhari (London: TR Press, 1976); Transformations of the Lover (Pittsburgh: International Poetry Forum, 1982; Revised as The Pages of Day and Night, trans. by Samuel Hazo (Marlboro, Vermont, 1994); Victims of the Map. Mahmud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim, Adonis, trans. by Abdullah al-Udhari (London: Saqi, 1984); Selected poems in Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology, ed. by Salma Khadra Jayyusi (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987); Selected poems in When the Words Burn: An Anthology of Arabic Poetry: 1945-1987, John Mikhai Asfour (Dunvegan, Ontario: Cormorant Books, 1988); Love Poems: If Only the Sea Could Sleep, trans. by Kamal Boullata (New York: Interlink, 1989; reissued as If Only the Sea Could Sleep (London: Saqi Books, 2002/Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2003); Beginnings, trans. by Kamal Boullata and Mirène Ghossein (Washington, D.C.: Pyramid Atlantic, 1992); A Time Between Ashes and Roses, trans. by Shawkat M. Toorawa (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2004); Selected Poems, trans. by Khaled Mattawa (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2010)

[We invite suggested corrections and commentary on all poet biographies.]

[The poems reprinted below are from If Only the Sea Could Sleep. Your can purchase the entire book here.]


The road and the house love me
The living and the dead
The red jug
At home
Its water in love with it
The neighbor loves me
The field and the threshing floor
The fire
The arms that toll
Happy with the world
or unhappy
the tear my brother shed
hidden by the crop
Anemone that mortifies the blood
I have been here as long as the god of love
What would love do if I died.

(from Qasa'id UlaIf, 1963)

-Translated from the Arabic by Mirène Ghossein

A Mirror for Khalida

1. The Wave
A branch for twigs to leaf around

A journey which drowns the day
In the water of eyes
A wave which taught me

That the light of stars
The face of clouds
The moaning of dust
Are all one flower...

2. Beneath the Water

We slept in a cloth woven
From the crimson of night—a night of nebula guts
A cheering of blood, a beat of cymbals
A lightning of suns beneath the water.
the night was pregnant.

3. Lost

I got lost in your hands, my lips were
A fortress
Longing for outlandish conquests
In love with siege
You came forth
Your waist a sultan,
Your hands the vanguard of armies,
You eyes, a hiding place and a friend.
We clung together, drifted, entered
The forest of fire—I outline the first step
You open the road.

4. Fatigue
The old fatigue my love
is blooming by the house
it has a drawer by now,
and a window.
It sleeps in its huts, and disappears.

O how we worried about its wandering, we ran
roaming the place
asking, prying
we sight it and scream: how, and where?
each wind
has come
each branch

but you did not...

5. Death
Then the little hours come
Steps and roads recur
Then the houses decay
The bed puts out the fire of its days and dies
as does the pillow.

(from al-Masrah wal-Maraya, 1968)

-Translated from the Arabic by Mirène Ghossein


The poems above are reprinted from Adonis, If Only the Sea Could Sleep (Los Angeles:
Green Integer, 2003). Copyright 2003 by Mirene Ghossein and Kamal Boullata. Reprinted
by permission of Green integer.

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