BEIRUT: Lebanon bid farewell to a titan of Lebanese culture, the renowned poet Said Akl Tuesday, with mourners paying their respects in Beirut and his hometown of Zahle.
Patriarch Beshara Rai led the funeral services at the St. George Cathedral in Downtown Beirut, hailing the late poet’s achievements.
“The absence of [Akl’s] physical presence is a big loss, but his great output – of poetry, prose and plays – keeps him alive in minds, consciences and hearts, one generation after another. He remains a literary, intellectual and cultural icon for the coming generations,” Rai said.
The Mass brought together politicians from rival factions.
Culture Minister Raymond Areiji represented Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Speaker Nabih Berri.
Also attending were former Presidents Michel Sleiman and Amine Gemayel; MP Assem Araji, representing former premier Saad Hariri; Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun; and other politicians.
Other well-known figures were also in attendance, such as Papal Nuncio Gabriel Caccia, singer Majida al-Roumi and composer Elias Rahbani, as well as other cultural, religious and academic figures. Many mourners laid wreaths in remembrance of the beloved literary icon.
The late poet’s body was brought to the cathedral at 10:50 a.m., carried in a casket made of Mount Lebanon’s rocks and cedar wood.
Designed and built by Lebanon’s famous painter and sculptor Rudy Rahme, the coffin had Akl’s name and the titles of many of his poems, as well as the word Lubnan carved into it.
Akl died at the age of 102 last Friday, leaving behind poetic oeuvres filled with philosophical thoughts, lyrical imagery and profound spirituality.
Notre Dame University had hosted prayers over Akl’s body Monday at its campus in Louaizeh, where students, officials and artists took photos of the corpse.
A particular sense of patriotism characterized most of Akl’s poems, Rai remarked at the funeral.
“He loved Lebanon and he put it on top of all nations,” Rai said. “He’s the one who said: ‘I love Lebanon more than myself,’ and considered it as an extraordinary country.”
The centenarian poet had dug deeply into Lebanon’s history during his life, hoping to revive the memory of ancient thinkers and cultural figures who hailed from the shores of what is now Lebanon, Rai said.
“Akl is an artist who spent his long life in constant search of the true meaning of things, and a burning desire to express the indescribable,” Rai said.
The patriarch ended his speech with an extract from a prayer that Akl wrote, which like many of his works has become a popular hymn.
Rai concluded by professing hope that the deceased’s family, hometown of Zahle and all of Lebanon would find solace in faith as Akl did in his lifetime.
After the Mass, the funeral parade left Beirut for Zahle, where the coffin was carried by residents and taken on a tour accompanied by a huge cheering crowd from the city.
The parade arrived to the Mar Maroun Cathedral in Ksara, where Bishop Joseph Mouawad led the ritual prayers for the poet’s body.
It then headed to Zahle’s Governmental Serail, passing by the Mar Afram School that Akl ran for many years, then to the city’s downtown on foot.
Finally, the casket was transported to Our Lady of Deliverance Cathedral, as stated in the poet’s will, where prayers were once again recited over the body that was then buried in a special tomb in the city’s cemetery.