Lebanon mourns loss of yet another giant, poet Said Akl

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Lebanon mourns loss of yet another giant, poet Said Akl
Ghinwa Obeid| The Daily Star
Nov. 29, 2014

BEIRUT: Lebanese poet, playwright and advocate of language reform Said Akl died Friday at the age of 102, leaving behind a huge legacy of achievements. Akl, who hails from the city of Zahle, was born in 1912 to a Maronite family. He is considered one of the most important modern Lebanese poets.

He attended the Marist Sisters School in Zahle where he excelled in his studies. At the age of 15 he was forced to leave school after his father ran into financial difficulties. This prevented Akl from finishing high school and going to university to major in engineering, and could have been a huge loss. Instead, it was the start of a great career.

Akl began working in teaching and journalism in Zahle, before settling in Beirut in his early 30s. He wrote honestly and courageously in newspapers such as Bayraq, Sayyad and Al-Jareda. Later, he studied at the Supreme Literature School, the Lebanese Institute for Fine Arts’ literature school, Dar al-Moualemeen and the Lebanese University.

Akl taught the history of Lebanese thinking at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik and also lectured at the Theology Institute in Mar Antonius, Ashrafieh.

His knowledge of various things related to poetry, the arts and philosophy made him one of the Middle East’s most prominent intellectuals.

He respected and admired both Christian and Muslim texts, and his passion for poetry played an important role in prompting him to create a poetry prize in 1962 from his own money. The prize is awarded to those who add beauty and love to Lebanon.

“He was a great person and great poet,” said Fouad Daaboul, an Al-Anwar editor. Daaboul, who won the Said Akl prize in the early 2000s, praised Akl as a man that wanted to support and encourage writers and said Lebanon had lost a huge figure.

A staunch advocate of Lebanese identity and nationalism, Akl is famous for his design of a Latin-based “Lebanese alphabet” made up of 37 letters.

His writings include poetry and prose both in the Lebanese dialect and in classical Arabic. He also wrote theater pieces and authored many popular songs, such as Majida Roumi’s Am Behlamak and other pan-Arab anthems.
He celebrated his 102nd birthday in July.
The loss of Akl sparked sadness among Lebanese, with many recalling his significance to Lebanon.
“Lebanon and the Arabs lost today a giant of poetry … May God’s mercy be on Said Akl,” tweeted former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

“A weighty poet and writer from Lebanon left today. He is Said Akl,” tweeted MP Walid Jumblatt.

Education Minister Elias Abu Saab released a statement calling on the various universities and schools to keep the legacy of Akl alive.

“The ministry, which included Akl’s poetry in the curriculums, will work on promoting his literature and poetic and artistic presence in educational curriculums. It calls on the heads of official and private schools, universities, students and teachers to revive the legacy of Said Akl,” the statement read.

These comments were echoed by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. “After losing Sabah, Lebanon and the Arab world lose today another giant from the giants of Arabic poetry and literature,” Siniora said. “God bless the creative poetic, special writer and visionary intellect.”

Akl will be laid to rest Tuesday in his hometown of Zahle after prayers for his soul are held at the Maronite St. George Cathedral in Beirut.