Adonis or Adunis, pen name of Ali Ahmad Said, 1930–, Syrian poet and essayist, generally considered the Arab world's greatest living poet. He began writing poetry in the 1950s. After being jailed (1955) for antigovernment activities, he moved (1956) to Beirut, where he cofounded (1957) the journal Shi'r [poetry] and founded (1968) the avant-garde cultural magazine Mawaqif [positions]. He has lived in Paris since the early 1980s and has taught at several universities. Writing in Arabic for a mainly Arab audience, Adonis is a key figure in Arab modernism. His more than 20 books include the poetry of Aghani Mihyar ad-Dimashqi [song of Mihyar the Damascene] (1961). Highly experimental, visionary, and often obscure, his verse mingles political concerns with surreal symbolism and a mysticism related to that of classical Sufi poetry (see Sufism). Themes of exile and sensuality recur in his verse, as do images of cities, seas, and mirrors. Some of his poems have appeared in English translation, e.g., The Blood of Adonis (1971) and The Pages of Day and Night (1994). He has also written studies of Arab history, culture, and literature, such as An Introduction to Arab Poetics (tr. 1990) and Sufism and Surrealism (1992, tr. 2005). Adonis has frequently provoked controversy as a critic of Arab society, an exponent of secular democracy, and a foe of both materialism and organized religion.
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