The magazine "Assalam" from Tétouan - Literary section - 1st year - No 8 - 1933
The "Assalam" magazine published on page 38 of its sixth edition, an article by Said Hajji in which he has expressed, quite correctly for the most part, his views on the works of the genius poet, Abbas Mahmoud Al Akkad. That said, I wish to debate with him one opinion amongst the many he has offered that I will raise shortly. Before engaging in the heart of the matter, I wish acknowledge the author's merit for addressing a topic so vast and complex as the literary work of Al Akkad, giving proof of an intellectual courage that is laudable. Furthermore he had chosen to write to us about a poet and writer only a few can be compared to in contemporary Arab literature. The literary work by Al Akkad is a most healthy nourishment for the heart and the soul. We have never ever had as much need as we do today for this genre of literature with its rare workmanship.
Our author wrote in his aforementioned article as follows:
"After having carefully studied the poetry and prose by Al Akkad, I can make the case that his stye does not reflect his psychological state and the idea of conceiving writings based on psyche is not his style. This is because his works from top to bottom are dominated by an active mind and he only finds his inspiration to describe his views of life in the depths of his reflections. This is what allowed him to produce his most fertile work when many people could not conceive of literature outside the sphere of feelings which I readily qualify as a reflection of the general state of man more so than it reflects the maturity of an adult mind."
This citation implies that Al Akkad's writings represent a literary trend totally dedicated to reflection with no room for feelings. To my knowledge, such judgement is neither justified by the views he expressed about his literary work nor his reflections on the fine arts. Furthermore one can't find any such justification in what he has written in poetry or prose.
I believe that if there is a message in Al Akkad's works, it is that this author is above all a messenger of feelings in an era where sectarianism tended to take on grand proportions. According to Al Akkad feeling is the reason for being in life; it is the life and basis for all authentic literature and all beautiful artistic creations. For my part, I believe it (feeling) is the underpinning of Al Akkad's work. And so there are three points I wish to treat here one by one:
Al Akkad believes, justifiably, that life develops, reinforces, expands and diversifies itself as feelings experience parallel tendencies and vice versa. That is why we observe him advising those whose hearts are dry to open up to feelings. He advises them to cultivate bit by bit and help develop feelings because this will add a deeper and wider dimension to life and allow better communion with the life of the surrounding cosmic world.
"Spend one hour of your life totally open to the cosmic influences others forgo and meld your nature with one even bigger. You will have then lived through all that is given for man to experience and so you would have benefited from the best moments in the passage of time."
When an individual's heart becomes arid and he can only rely on his mind, this is a mortal sign for him. Reliance only on mental faculties will not serve him. This is the theme intimated by Al Akkad in a masterful poem titled "First Love" in which he wrote:
Live by feelings, for entombed is the mind
Reverie's slow calm a shroud left behind.
Life is conceived only through the sentiments
And hence no need for thought nor arguments.
As for the importance of feelings in relation to the material and moral influential forces, Al Akkad had a singular view, which appears to me to be valid. Psychologists identify three influential forces for our psyche: emotional, intellectual and material. These forces intermingle. Each aspect of our psyche is in part conditioned by these three currents which display strengths and weaknesses depending upon the individual and his circumstances. This at least is the common conception held by psychologists. But which has the leading role and holds sway? Is it the heart? Is it the mind? Is it the will? Contrary to belief, Al Akkad maintains that it is the heart which reigns. The mind and will are at its service, executing the commands received and cease to act in the absence of its orders. It is the heart that subjects them, here or there and when it pleases. They are in the service of the strongest feelings be they ones of which we are perfectly aware or those that remain vague and repressed in the subconscious. That is what I inferred from his remarks in his "Anthology of Poems" under the title "The Mind and Emotions" from which one can read the following verses:
The mind does not dominate our life,
T'is life that subjects, often with strife.
True spring of youth and juvenile ardor,
It locks the mind in a servile harbor.
Full of life is the child, even if a mind mature
He lacks to expose his acts to censure.
Long ago the mind, an embryonic affair,
Wombed like a fetus deep in its lair.
It is our feelings that lead us on a leash,
Proof of ascendancy no stare can breach.
Al Akkad did not use the word "will" in his verses, however the influence of feelings on our will is implicit in his words such as shown by the expression "that lead us on a leash" in the penultimate hemstitch. It is this point of view that appears to be valid as I have contended because we act only for a cause and we think only in view of an action. All causes for which we take action originate in the attraction for something we desire or for protection against a wrong. If we hesitate before undertaking some action it is due to opposing conflicts, not between the heart and reason nor between the heart and will. Rather it is uniquely between feelings that struggle against each other in the heart. This continues until the moment where one triumphs over the others and ends up exerting unchecked power leaving no room for hesitation.
Consider, for example, a man who seeks to be a leader. He strives to make this the objective of all his ambitions, but despite this, he wishes for justice and equity. If his penchant to lead is much stronger than his desire for justice and equity, then he will be driven after some hesitation to resort to all means, legal or otherwise, to achieve his goal. On the other hand, if the desire for justice and equity is dominant, his conduct will be different and he would back down from anything likely to be against them.
In summary, we can not say that we are driven in all our actions uniquely by self-interest or only by moral or esthetic considerations be these motives and considerations hidden or in the open for certain circumstances and for a given individual. The mind's main purpose is to do prospective searches and that of the will is but one to execute all that the predominant feeling commands, irrespective of whether it is upstream or downstream of the effort to reflect or whether the result conforms or not to the searches.
Such is the importance of feelings to life in the eyes of Al Akkad. However in the fields of the arts and literature, the poet considers 'true feeling' as the basis for all authentic literature and all fine art. He believes the mind is incapable of producing and fine tuning a creation of value if it doesn't seek inspiration in a 'true feeling', one that is deeply rooted inside. It suffices here to cite what Al Akkad has written on this topic so that the reader is made aware of the special place this author has reserved for feeling in the world of writings and the arts. One can find this by reading the following preface of the first volume of his "Anthology of Poems":
"Literary critique must distinguish between literature of the intellect and that of character. The literature that is the product of intellect is a mosaic of words, a prostitution of feelings and a montage of illusions. It remains a dead letter. As for literature that portrays characters, it emanates from real faith, brimming with feelings and lucid action. Its words consist of flesh and blood. No one can doubt that authentic literature is intimately tied to alive and strong characters with natural dispositions. ... Literary critique must differentiate between intelligence and the mind. The latter finds its origins in the strength of temperament and not from evoked inspiration, despite its control of situations of conflict, its suppression of feelings, and the balance it seeks to create between feelings. This is in contrast to intelligence which draws its source from the intellect which can only be highlighted if it is driven by some natural given or by factors that keep it in motion."
These observations dealt with the literary field. As for art, one can read about it on page 208 under the title "The Photographic Exhibit" as follows:
"If we accept that a life devoid of artistic taste is a pure waste, then it will certainly not see much innovation compared to the life of others who are well informed in this arena and have a taste for life's meaning; even if their taste is just a minimum of what must be appreciated and loved by art's endowment. Yet we can only be astonished in the face of the views of those who live on this earth without manifesting feelings or who exist without making an effort to live."
"In truth, man lives a full life when he nourishes the feelings evoked from his surroundings and endows his mind with images of what falls upon his eyes. That is what we mean by 'to live.' That is also what we mean by having an artistic sense of appreciation. A sense which many have deprived themselves even if they are capable to create, given an appropriate occasion, the environment within for self-fulfillment."
These quotes from Al Akkad's writings on this topic can not be more clear and do not call for any other demonstration or further explanation. One must only add a cautionary note to draw attention to the preface to his book titled. "The Revelations of 40" where Akkad defines authentic poetry as being "a fine illustration of real feelings" which depend on neither youthful innocence nor the mature mind of an adult. It suffices to express frankly what one feels taking good care to formulate it in an esthetic manner.
After summarizing Al Akkad's theses on the positive role of feelings in life as as in writing and the arts, it remains for us to see if this theoretical notion conforms or not to what he has written in verse and in prose. Let's leave aside for now Al Akkad's works in prose and focus on what we have begun to assess, that is to say that feelings are the factors that lead us to act on all undertakings or on what we forgo. Let us limit ourselves to poetry because of the great importance Al Akkad gives to it in his literary works. Furthermore let us say that Al Akkad's poetry is above all "ablaze with feelings" and in perfect harmony with his principles. His poetry is punctuated in its entirety by love and hope, despair and hate, desire and fear, anger, satisfaction, irritation as well as all variants that each of these feelings is likely to be present separately or in association with other feelings.
Al Akkad's motive to express what he felt was his need to express his feelings and the motive which led him to express himself with rhythm and rhyme is due to his love for beauty and for his artistic taste. These reached their peak of splendor in his poetry. The themes addressed by his poems are those of feelings aroused by endogenous and exogenous influences of all forms and color; be they at peace or at war. Let us open "The Anthology of Poems" to page 209 and read from his piece titled "Peaceful Garden":
My garden stretches under death's shadow,
But life moistens it with dew of golden fallow.
A sieve dissipates clouds of miasmic grit
Protecting trees from its noxious flit.
Birds bearing an air of melancholy
Dream to soar with drunken jolly.
My heart finds itself, in all this abundance
Smelling scents of such soft fragrance.
Like an eye at night, awake it tries to keep
But falls to fatigue, overcome by sleep.
From one state to another, a faraway distraction
grips it, and then awakens renewed attraction.
A dream, through its vision, becomes reality
Caressed by tenderness and much dexterity.
Thus, as a dream, beauty is detected
When at night its gilded veil is ejected.
Heaven's gift, this land with furrows plowed.
To solitary souls its great bounty allowed.
Fresh and light, winds gentle and restful
Blown from another world seem so peaceful.
Here, ghosts of all stripes meet
Lost souls remorseful in defeat.
Let's hope the respite that is our fate's master
Unites at once those here and in the hereafter.
Before the last breath, to what aim
To whine? to worry? An effort so lame.
Do we not see here a serene joy, an enchanting spell in this peaceful garden, a mind in calm repose, the delight of dreaming, a euphoric intoxication, and a place distant from the real world? Is it not enjoyable to witness how beauty emerges from the ambiguity and the encounters with its opposite? This, and much more, are revealed to us as we touch upon his flowing and lucid rhyme.
We can also read from page 210 of his "Anthology of Poems" these verses excerpted from his poem titled: "Spit"
Oh my years! Oh my years! My reward is such
To have endured in life so much. Aye, so much.
What have you left me after your evasion?
Serenity? Oh no, it was spent by dispersion.
Nothing inspires my hope. In fact not even
The most clairvoyant nor gifted of men.
I see nothing good in scenes of agony;
Why would beauty become a tragedy?
A certain slanderous bent has been attached
To the secrets of behavior, open or stashed.
What is hope if but arrogant and vain passion?
And a woman? Apt only to beget per fashion?
Where is that friendship for people who brag
Of being fascinated by evil's tug and drag?
What is prestige, and what is glory
In a land beset by idolatrous story?
What about nobility of natural disposition?
Alas! It is but a subterfuge, a false illusion.
Ask destiny - If it responds to your call -
Whether life is naught but flesh after all.
We buy life's key lessons by the slice
That we then toss with no heed to price.
We are shortsighted, just like our gaze,
Tied to bad kismet, see its haggard daze.
Blindness without doubt is a major liability
Even if sight could clearly detect calamity.
Doomed to failure all minds not arrested
By vertigo for matters poorly attested.
Hence the heart feels a most bruised state
And sweeps mind's vigor into adverse fate.
In this poem, the writer displays his feelings of disdain, despair, vindictiveness, worry and fury. He shows us how his heart is in the grips of competing feelings, each vying for dominance. His suffering mounts, his anger doubling in intensity and he begins to pose to himself several questions: What is hope? What is the essence of a pretty woman? And what about prestige or natural disposition? Even more grueling and distressful than all these he asks:
Ask destiny - If it responds to your call -
Whether life is naught but flesh after all.
We buy life's key lessons by the slice
That we then toss with no heed to price.
These are two examples of Al Akkad's poetry. His poetry is uniformly embroidered along this pattern which allows us to discover a number of varied feelings that attract and repel.
We have not looked at the value of thought in the literary works by Al Akkad. All those somewhat familiar with this poet's writings observe first of all the vectors of his mind's strength, their ascendancy and moderation. But despite all its might, the mind rests on a lower rung compared to feelings. The function it fulfills in Al Akkad's poetry is one of an instrument to analyze, justify, compare, measure and search for modes of expression and description. However this tool responds to all the criteria of the will, precision and honesty. For Al Akkad, it represents the best support to the feelings in his artistic work. Let us take another excerpt from his poems to illustrate this observation. In "The Revelation of 40" one can read on page 136, from the poem "New Palpitations", the following:
Oh my heart! How your palpitations are in submission
To a new rhythm with a cadence of much imprecision.
Not too long ago, my face you loved, Lo!
Oh deny this not - else an outrage be it so.
You adored it. How oft sought you its countenance
Day after next, from dawn to the sun's disappearance.
Above all do not lie. Tell me with utmost clarity
'Let us now seek its mystery's secrets with lucidity.'
You believe its lean look is due to a mishap endured,
But love gives it strength, meaning, a persistence enured.
In my mouth lies mainly a cheek of vermilion hue
Therein lies too a soft word whispered only to you.
Akin to the sun's rays of yellow color
Or to ivory's ashen and faded pallor.
This complexion paints a face beautiful and gaunt
And menaces its silken lines with tumbling haunt.
My heart, torn by this creature I swound
Seeks solace to heal its deep wound.
When I cast a wink in its direction
It's gaiety converts to sad affliction.
Is this hence a dream, I ask, from a dormant state
Or have I truly lived this on some forgotten date?
These two possibilities to my eyes, coalesce
Each render reality to accurate images no less.
We conclude from reading these verses that the poet is gripped with intense emotion and his heartbeat has been altered. But, what is the cause of this new state? The poet asks himself this question and then gives free reign to an essay of analysis, justification and deduction and arrives at the conclusion that love is the cause of this troubling change of his being. How did this love come to be? It certainly was provoked by the beautiful features of the loved one. But what are the characteristics of these features of beauty? The writer discovers these within the ambiguities and antagonistic elements that we have previously dealt with. He reveals their nature within the coexistence of subtlety and pain, reality and fiction, compassion and affection, and joy and sadness. The poet feels all this deep within him. However, by listening to his heart, he becomes more aware and begins reasoning. He goes back to the causes of the phenomena leaving aside all prejudgements he harbored and to which he found attractive explanations for his mind and heart. This is illustrated in the anthology "Gift from Kérouan" where one reads on page 65, under the title "A Kiss Without Embrace" the following:
In a month. Will we meet again, in thirty days?
Under an army's curious and mocking gaze?
How can they, our separated hearts keep?
Our patience scapegoat of sufferance deep.
We will exchange a kiss so coveted
Yet care that our cheeks stay parted.
This kiss is a spring-head of sensuous pleasure,
For emotions and feelings beyond measure.
In this excerpt and, particularly in the last two hemstitches, the author's mind is occupied in reflections on the intense emotional state borne in an impromptu fashion and only the surrounding stares prevent his emotions from overflowing. Such are the most apparent functions of the mind and its characteristics in the works of Al Akkad. It remains to be seen if the mind, as an instrument of power and will, is in harmony with the author's feelings, his exuberance, diversity and refinement and if it able to analyze and depict all of Al Akkad feelings from deep within. We can allow some doubt as it does happen that the mind can experience deficiencies in certain cases as the author himself writes in the previously cited anthology, "Gift from Kérouan. " Under the heading of his magnificent poem "My Words" one can read from page 85 the following:
My words, where are you now? What say you to me?
Come to my rescue, I'm delirious, don't let me be.
What benefit can fulfill this hand's goal
To claims due of nourishment for my soul.
But all minds of men appear to be in retreat
Faced with a gesture of solidarity so discrete.
In my hands it feels like a budding sheath,
Other times I behold a Gladiola wreathe.
In my mouth, at times it is a cheek so vermillion
Other times it is a kiss, like none in a million.
And my heart, oh my words! What lies within unseen?
Call upon the heavens and see if gods will intervene.
Or remain quiet, because to have silence is better
But then, come! Give! You can do nothing greater!
In the final analysis one can see that Al Akkad sought poetic inspiration from the world of feelings which teem his works in terms of quantity and variety. Thanks to his penetrating mind and artistic sensitivity, he explains and describes in detail his feelings and forms them in molds as pretry as they are diverse with respect to form and color. Let him speak for himself about poetic conception. It is a pleasure to hear his words, notably on page 51 of the "Gift from Kérouan" anthology under the title "Poetry and Poetry":
Is this a poem? Yes it is. A genuine skit,
Trembling with emotion, and inspired by it.
Like my heart beat, its rhythm springs forward
Its poetic, from your seductive air, drawn outward.
Feigning unawareness, a question you raise
Whether I hide a secret behind my praise.
My poem intrigues you, by that I am very astounded;
Aren't you the muse from whom my words were founded?
Are you indifferent to all that I have earnestly written,
Be it verse or prose with laughter or tears thus smitten?
From your lips, and, not from mine, my thirst I appease,
At dusk when a touch of cheeks led to a gentle squeeze.
Dictate your reply but please not in sun's fashion
Worried the moon will rise to skies of red passion.