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Revolution of the mind

Adonis og Mohammad Habeeb

Adonis is one of the greatest poets of the Arab world. He's been writing poetry for 70 years, and he led a modernist revolution in the second half of the 20th century, exerting huge influence on Arabic poetry.


In his third book of poetry, The Songs of Mihyar the Damascene, Adonis marked a definitive disruption of existing poetics and a new direction in poetic language. This also inspired a lot of the young poets as it was highly appreciated and studied.

Adonis opposed the suppression of the individual’s imagination. Poetry, he argued, must remain a realm in which language and ideas are examined, reshaped, and refined, in which the poet refuses to descend to the level of daily expediencies. This had been credited with "far-reaching influence on the development of Arab poetry," including the creation of "a new poetic language and rhythms, deeply rooted in classical poetry but employed to convey the predicament and responses of contemporary Arab society.»

Fatwas against Adonis 

Adonis is one of the most controversial and disputed writers in the Arab world. He views culture as dynamic rather than immutable and transcendent, challenging the traditionalist homogenizing tendency within heritage. This put Adonis, as a critic of Islamic religious values and traditions, who describes himself as a non-religious person, in a contest with Islamic fundamentalists, who issued two separated fatwas against him as an infidel, and demanded his books to be banned, and burned. 

Adonis interviewed by Hanna Ziadeh at his home in Copenhagen, November 2014, for Louisiana Channel

A modernist movement

Adonis was the leader for my generation, a Syrian poet leader. He inspired me in his modernized way of writing poetry. He was a pioneer and left the classical poetry, with rhytm and rhyme and started a modernist movement. That made it easier to approach poetic writing for me, my generation and the generations after us. We wouldn’t dare to compare ourselves to him. For me it was difficult to understand his sufism poetry, but I liked his way of thinking and writing, the metaphors he used that was different from the traditional. An example; traditional poetry focused on metaphors, allegories and rhytm. He went beyond – he used real names and events, thoughts and myths in a symbolic way.

Adonis was admired and read mainly by the intellectuals, both women and men. Ordinary people often couldn’t understand him, he wrote for the intellectuals. That’s also his problem with the readers.

Adonis and the Arabian spring

After the Arabian spring took place in 2011 Adonis wrote some texts and ideas about what was going on in Syria. This shocked very many people. They were divided in what he wrote. In his writings he didn’t support either of the sides, neither the regime nor the uprising revolution. He meant that before you even consider a revolution of the people, you need an intellectual one. He wanted to revolutionize the intellect, the theory, the morals, not the system. Displacing the government wouldn’t help, he said, and there are many examples in history that shows that. Before you can change something in practice, there has to be a revolution of the mind.

Adonis - Violence & Islam

Adonis' way of addressing the regime and the Islamic way of thinking wasn’t understood very well by the readers. They didn’t like the way he handled it, they thought he was evading the political regime directly. But Adonis didn’t care, he just said what he thought was true. He wrote a lot about the Islamic faith, and described how they are manipulating people’s lives, and corrupting their understanding of life.

Adonis has always been faithful to his pen name ‘Adonis’. He gives himself the right to say what he thinks without considering whether we like it or not, like a mighty God, he predicts the future, throw his word in our faces and goes forward. Sometimes a lot of us take too long time to understand what he means, some refuse it at once and many follow, imitate him and try to walk in his trail.

Adonis at the Kapittel festival