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The Beginning of Speech

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The child I was came to me
a strange face
                He said nothing              We walked
each of us glancing at the other in silence, our steps
a strange river running in between
We were brought together by good manners
and these sheets now flying in the wind
then we split,
a forest written by earth
watered by the seasons’ change.
Child who once was, come forth—
What brings us together now,
and what do we have to say?

Adonis, “The Beginning of Speech” from Selected Poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa. Copyright © 2010 by Adonis. Reprinted by permission of Yale University Press.
Source: Selected Poems (Yale University Press, 2010)
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The Beginning of Speech

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  • Arab poet, translator, editor, and theorist Ali Ahmad Said Esber was the eldest of six children born to a family of farmers in Syria’s Al Qassabin village. Though they could not afford the cost of formal education, Adonis’s father taught his son to read and helped him memorize poems while he worked on the family farm. At fourteen, Adonis recited a poem to the president of Syria during his visit a neighboring town, after which the president offered to grant the boy’s request to attend school. With the president’s support, Adonis enrolled in a French high school and then Damascus University, where he earned a BA in philosophy.  
    In his late teens, he began writing under the name Adonis, after the Greek god of fertility. After a year in prison as a result of his political activity, Adonis moved to Beirut, where he found a rich community of...

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