Beirut (AsiaNews) - Sunday's funeral service for Said Akl (1912-2014), one of Lebanon's greatest poets since Gibran Khalil Gibran, was an exceptional affair. The poet, who died last week, may not have had Gibran's international reach, but he certainly was his equal if not more in terms of spirit, greatness and faith.
Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara al-Rahi led the funeral service at Saint George Maronite Cathedral in downtown Beirut. In his homily, the patriarch paid tribute to a man who was as much a great Christian as he was a great poet. Poet, writer, philosopher and philologist, Said Akl consistently sought God's presence in Christ's face throughout his long life.
Most notably, he wrote the simple words of a song of worship that every Lebanese Christian knows, even though they might know who wrote them. "Everything that is not fully your face is a chimera", he tells Christ. Some of his poems were sung by the great Fairuz and now belong to the universal heritage of the Arab World."
The search for the deeper meaning of things, the search for the essential, which marked Said Akl's life, even led him to write a 'Maronite Mass' in which he put all the enthusiasm that defined everything he undertook like poetry, theatre or epic verses, the patriarch said.
Asked once about his younger years, Said Akl said, "I started with theology, which is broader than philosophy, science and art. My love for these things is great, but my love of theology is even greater."
He would have certainly agreed with Dostoevsky, who said, "Beauty will save the world," the Patriarch added. Indeed, "The beauty God gave nature, human beings and Lebanon was the precious pearl that Said Akl bought at the price of all that he had," the head of the Maronite Church said.
After a life that lasted 102 years, Said Akl dominated a century of Lebanese and Arab history with his genius. Was he eccentric? How could such a soul be anything else? Originally destined to be a civil engineer at a time of artistic and literary conventionalism and ideological narrowness, he introduced the Lebanese language to the Latin script, something which can find today on mobile devices.
Lebanon's Who's Who was present at Said Akl's funeral at St George's Cathedral. Alas, one seat was empty, that of the president, whose office has been vacant since 25 May.
Addressing political leaders present at the service, the patriarch reminded them of what Said Akl once said about them: "Sometimes I keep quiet when someone makes a mistake. I am forgiving for errors in the literary field. But I don't keep quiet in politics. I do not naturally hate, but I hate politicians who make Lebanon lose valuable opportunities!"
"Said Akl's death is a great loss for Lebanon," the patriarch noted, "but his phenomenal output will keep his memory alive in minds and hearts, from one generation to the next."
Said Akl was often criticised. The patriarch remembered in particular that the poet enjoyed reminding the Lebanese about their Phoenician cultural heritage, citing in particular Cadmus, the inventor of the alphabet, and Euclid, the father of geometry.
In an attempt to correct questionable Arab-Muslim cultural exclusivism, Said Akl went overboard sometimes. Today we know better. Unfortunately, a timid and self-righteous elite hesitated to follow him in some of his bolder and newer endeavours, like placing the Gospel's Cana in Lebanon. Politically, he was criticised for his complacency towards certain extremist Christian groups who ideologically identified with him at the beginning of the civil war.
"Go in peace, poet, writer, giant and believer in the heart of the divine beauty that await you in heaven; you who said one day that seeing Jesus will be the only thing more beautiful than thinking," the patriarch said in concluding.