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Paul Éluard (1895-1952) - pseudonym of Eugène Grindel


French poet, a founder of Surrealism with Louis Aragon and André Breton among others, one of the important lyrical poets of the 20th century. Éluard rejected later Surrealism and joined the French Communist Party. Many of his works reflect the major events of the century, such as the World Wars, the Resistance against the Nazis, and the political and social ideals of the 20th-century.

I was born to know you
To give you your name

(in Poèsie et Vérité, 1942)

Paul Éluard came from a lower-middle-class background. He was born Eugène Émile Paul Grindel in Saint-Denis, Paris, the son of a bookkeeper, whose wife helped out with the household bills by dressmaking. Éluard became interested in poetry in his youth in Clavadel, a Swiss sanatorium, where he was sent for treatment of tuberculosis. When he returned to France, he joined the army and was badly injured by gas. His first noteworthy volume of poetry was Le Devoir et l'Inquiétude (1917).

During a leave from the service in 1917, Éluard married a Russian woman, Helena Diakonova, known as Gala, whom he had met in Clavadel. Gala inspired several of Éluard's poems published in Capitale de la douleur (1926, Capital of Pain), which established his reputation as a poet. It includes some of his most famous love poems, such as 'L'Amoureuse' (Woman in Love) and 'La Courbe de tes yeaux' (The Curve of Your Eyes). Later its poems punctuated Jean-Luc Godard's film Alphaville (1965), in which the existential secret agent, Lemmy Caution, battles with a copy of   this "codebook" against a totalitarian regime run by a computer Alpha 60. Poetry is the key to love and freedom. Éluard had compiled the book during the period, when Gala had a liaison with the artist Max Ernst. Godard chose the work partly because its title stood for the technocratic Alphaville itself.

Like André Breton, Aragon, Péret, Soupault and other intellectuals, Éluard emerged from the war disgusted with commonly accepted values of the bourgeois society. He was briefly involved with the Dada movement, which declined in the 1920s as many of its proponents joined the Surrealists. Éluard's early statement in verse of surrealist theories was Les Nécessités de la vie et les conséquences des rêves (1921). With the painter Max Ernst, who had moved to Paris in 1922, Éluard worked on Répétitions (1922) and on a cycle entitled Les Malheurs des Immortels, a series of pictures made of scraps of illustrations cut out from old books. They marked the beginning of the series of collage books, that culminated in Ernst's Une semaine de bonté (1934), which Ernst finished in three weeks during his visit in Italy.  

In 1924 Éluard disappeared mysteriously. Rumours of his death were widely circulated and finally accepted as true. After seven months he surfaced and explained that he had been on a journey from Marseilles to Tahiti, Indonesia, and Ceylon. This absence from the Parisian scene was later connected with the loss of his wife Gala to the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, although their relationship started much later. Between 1921 and 1924 Gala had an affair with Max Ernst. He painted painted several portraits of her. Louise Straus, whom Ernst had married in 1918, described Gala as "that Russian female... that slithering, glittering creature with dark falling hair, vaguely oriental and luminant black eyes and small delicate bones, who had to remind one of a panther." Legally Éluard and Gala were divorced in 1932. They had one daughter, Cécile.


Elle est debour sur mes paupières
Et ses cheveux sont dans les miens,
Elle a la forme de mes mains,
Elle a la couleur de mes yeux,
Elle s'engloutit dan mon ombre
Comme une pierre sur le ciel.

Elle a toujours les yeux ouverts
Et ne me laisse pas dormir.
Ses rêves en pleine lumière
Font s'évaporer les soleils,
Me font rire, pleurer et rire,
Parler sans avoir rien à dire

(Samuel Beckett's translation)

She is standing on my lids
And her hair is in my hair
She has the colour of my eye
She has the body of my hand
In my shade she is engulfed
As a stone against the sky

She will never close her eyes
And she does not let me sleep
And her dreams in the bright day
Make the suns evaporate
And me laugh cry and laugh
Speak when I have nothing to say

Freud's theory of the unconscious influenced deeply avant-garde writers; especially the technique of automatic writing was experimented as a method to liberate subconscious from the straitjacket of reason. However, Éluard practiced automatic writing very little, but it was one of Breton's favorite subjects. From 1924 to 1938 Éluard was a central member of the surrealist group. In 1933 he was expelled from the Communist Party partly due to an article published in Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution, in which Ferdinand Alquié denounced "the wind of cretinization blowing from the U S S R ".

Éluard cooperated in 1930 with Breton in L'Immaculate conception, a series of poems in prose, in which they entered into communication with the vegetative life of the foetus and simulated demented states. "Of all the ways the sunflower has of loving the light, regret is the loveliest on the sundial. Crossbones, crosswords, volumes and volumes of ignorance and knowledge. The doe, between bounds, likes to look at me. I keep her company in the glade. I fall slowly from the heights, as yet I weigh only what minus a hundred thousand yards will weigh..."

Éluard married in 1934 Maria Benz (1906-1946), known as Nusch; earlier she had been a hypnotist's stooge in a circus and a small-time actress and model. Nusch did not only inspire some of Éluard's most tender love poems, but she was also a muse and model for the photographer Man Ray and Pablo Picasso, and for a time, she was the artist's mistress. Soon after the marriage, Éluard published with Man Ray a slim volume entitled Facile (1935). Nusch participated in the creation of the book, which included Éluard's love lyrics and eleven photographs Nusch's body. When Nicole Boulestreau wrote an article on the book, she coined the term photopoème: "In the photopoem, meaning progresses in accordance with the reciprocity of writing and figures: reading becomes interwoven through alternating restitchings of the signifier into text and image." (Le Photopoème Facile: Un Noveau Livre dans les années 30, Le Livre surréaliste: Mélusine IV, 1982)

In the late 1930s Éluard abandoned Surrealistic experimentations, partly as a result of his concern over the Spanish Civil War. After he renewed his affiliation with the Communist Party, Breton broke with him. During WW II, Éluard served in the French army and in the Communist Resistance. To avoid the Gestapo Éluard and Nusch constantly changed addresses. His poems Éluard published under such pseudonyms as Jean du Hault and Maurice Hervent.

Éluard's most famous works from these years, 'Liberté' and 'Rendez-vous Allemand', were spread throughout France. Nusch died unexpectedly in 1946, she suffered a stroke and collapsed in the street. Éluard's third wife was Dominique Laure, to whom he dedicated the collection Le Phénix (1951). Picasso, who once had potrayed Éluard as a transvestite, said that he is not going to honor him again by going to bed with his wife.

After the war Éluard was active in the international communist movement in the cultural field. He traveled in Britain, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, and Russia, but not the United States, because he was refused a visa as a Communist. Éluard's idealism, passion for peace, and inability to see the reality of the Soviet Union, led the poet to admire Stalin. With Picasso he took part in 1948 in the World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace in Wroclaw, Poland. Éluard saw poetry as an action capable of arousing awareness in his readers, and identified with the leftist struggle for political, social and sexual liberation. "So much fonfusion to stay so pure," wrote Salvador Dali on Éluard in his diary (Diary of Genius, 1966).

Éluard published over seventy books, including poetry, literary and political works, and poetic texts dedicated to such painters as Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso. Painting, like poetry, was for Éluard destined to disseminate truth belonging to both the real and the imaginary. The mission of poetry was to renew language in order to effect radical changes in all areas of human life, "poetry is a perpetual struggle, life's very principle, the queen of unrest."  ('Poetry's Evidence', This Quarter; Surrealist Number, September 1932.) In Éluard's love lyrics woman performs as a liberating force. Love, to Éluard, was a kind of revolution of the spirit. In 'L'amoureuse' Éluard exemplified the effects of love, which unites one soul to another. Samuel Beckett, who translated the work into English, did not actually feel close to the Surrealists, but Éluard and Breton were among his friends.

Among Éluard's best-known later works are Poésie ininterrompue (1946) and Poèmes politiques (1948). Éluard died of a heart condition on November 18, 1952 in Charenton-le-Pont. At his funeral, organized by the Party, Picasso was seated next to Dominique. "In fact," she said later, "it was Éluard who was a friend to Picasso, and the other way around only to the extent that Picasso was capable of friendship."

For further reading: The Facts on File Companion to World Poetry, 1900 to the Present, ed. R. Victoria Arana (2010); World Authors 1900-1950, Vol. 2, ed.  Martin Seymour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); Picasso: Creator and Destroyer by Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington (1988); French Literature by W. Fowlie (1980); Sensibility and Creation, ed. R. Cardinal (1977); Paul Éluard by Robert Nugent (1974); Poésie ininterrompue et la poétique de Paul Éluard by R. Vernier (1971); Meetings with Poets by J. Lindsey (1968); Paul Éluard par lui-même by R. Jean (1968); Études sur le temps humain by G. Poulet (1964) - See also Odysseus Elytis. Suomennoksia antologioissa Tuhat laulujen vuotta (1957) ja Tulisen järjen aika (1962).

Selected works:

  • Premiers poèmes, 1913
  • Dialogues des inutiles, 1914
  • Le Devoir, 1916
  • Le Devoir et l'Inquiétude, 1917
  • Pour vivre ici, 1918
  • Poèmes pour la paix, 1919
  • Les Animaux et leurs hommes, les hommes et leurs animaux, 1920
  • Les Nécessités de la vie et les conséquences des rêves, 1921
  • Répétitions, 1922 (with Max Ernst)
  • Les malheurs des immortels, 1922 (with Max Ernst)
  • La courbe de tes yeux, 1924
  • Mourir de ne pas mourir, 1924
  • 152 proverbes mis au goût du jour, 1925 (with Benjamin Péret)
  • Au défaut du silence, 1925
  • Les dessous de la vie; ou, la pyramide humaine, 1926
  • Capitale de la douleur, 1926
    - Capital of Pain (translated by Mary Ann Caws, Patricia Terry, Nancy Kline, 1966; Richard M. Weisman, etchings by John Thein, 1973)
    - Tuskan pääkaupungit (suom. Olivia Bernier ja J. K. Ihalainen, 2001)
  • Défense de savoir, 1928
  • L'Amour, la poésie, 1929
    - Love, Poetry = Lamour la poésie (translated by Stuart Kendall, 2007)
  • Les Notes sur la poésie, 1929 (with André Breton)
  • Ralentir travaux, 1930 (with André Breton and René Char)
  • À toute épreuve, 1930
  • L'immaculée conception, 1930 (with André Breton)
    - The Immaculate Conception (translated by Jon Graham, 1990)
  • Dors, 1931
  • La Vie Immédiate, 1932
  • Certificat, 1932
  • Comme deux gouttes d'eau, 1933
  • La Rose publique, 1934 (The Public Rose)
  • Nuits partagées, 1935
  • Facile, 1935 (photographs by Man Ray)
  • Les Yeux fertiles, 1936 (The Fertile Eyes)
  • Thorns of Thunder, 1936 (ed. George Reavey)
  • Le front couvert, 1936
  • Les Notes sur la poésie, 1936 (with André Breton)
  • La Barre d'Appui, 1936
  • L'Évidence poétique, 1937
  • Avenir de la poésie, 1937
  • Premières vues anciennes, 1937
  • Les mains libres, 1937
  • Appliquée: poèmes, 1937 (illustrated by Valentine Hugo)
  • Quelques-uns des mots qui jusqu'ici m'étaient mystérieusement interdits, 1937
  • Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme, 1938 (with André Breton)
  • Solidarité, 1938
  • Cours naturel, 1938
  • La victoire de Guernica, 1938
  • Le livre ouvert", 1938-40
  • Facile proie, 1938
  • Ode à Salvador Dalí, 1938
  • Chanson complète , 1939
  • Médieuses, 1939
  • Charles Baudelaire, 1939
  • Jeux vagues la poupée , 1939 (photographs by Hans Bellmer)
  • Donner à voir, 1939
  • Le Livre ouvert I, 1940
  • Moralité du sommeil, 1941
  • Choix de poèmes, 1941
  • Sur les pentes inférieures, 1941
  • Poésie et vérité 1942, 1942
    - Poetry and Truth (translated by Roland Penrose and E.I.T. Mesens, 1942)
  • Le Livre ouvert II, 1942
  • La Dernière Nuit, 1942
  • Liberté, 1942
  • Poésie involontaire et poésie intentionnelle, 1942
  • Avis, 1943
  • Courage, 1943
  • Les Sept poèmes d'amour en guerre, 1943
  • Dignes de vivre, 1944
  • Au rendez-vous allemand, 1944
  • Pour vivre ici, 1944
  • Le Lit, la Table , 1944
  • Pour vivre ici, 1944
  • Les Armes de la douleur, 1944
  • Quelques mots rassemblés pour Monsieur Dubuffet, 1944
  • Liberté, 1944
  • À Pablo Picasso, 1944
    - Pablo Picasso (translated by Joseph T. Shipley, 1947)
  • En avril 1944: Paris respirait encore!, 1945
  • Doubles d'ombre: poèmes et dessins, 1945
  • Lingères légères, 1945
  • Une longue réfléxion amoureuse, 1945
  • Poésie ininterrompue, 1946 (2 vols.)
    - Uninterrupted Poetry: Selected Writings (translated by Lloyd Alexander; introductory notes by Aragon, Louis Parrot, and Claude Roy, 1951) / Unbroken Poetry II (translated by Gilbert Bowen, 1996)
  •  Souvenirs de la maison des fous, 1946
  • Le dur désir de durer, 1946 (illustrated by Marc Chagall)
    - [The Dour Desire to Endure] (English translation by Stephen Spender and Frances Cornford, 1950)
  • Figure humaine, 1946
  • Objet des mots et des images, 1947
  • Elle se fit élever un palais, 1947
  • Le temps déborde, 1947
  • Le Cinquième Poème visible, 1947
  • Chagall: Peintures, 1942-1945, 1947
    - Chagall Water-colours, 1942-1946 (introd. by Edith Hoffmann, 1947)
  • Corps mémorable, 1947
  • Notre vie, 1947
  • À l'intérieur de la vue, 1947
  • La Courbe de tes yeux, 1947
  • Deux poètes d'aujourd'hui, 1947
  • Meilleur choix de poèmes est celui que l'on fait pour soi, 1947
  • Poèmes politiques, 1948
  • À l'intérieur de la vue, 1948
  • Gabriel Péri, 1948
  • Premiers poèmes, 1948
  • Poèmes pour tous, 1948
  • Le Bestiaire, 1949
  • La saison des amours, 1949
  • Je l'aime, Elle m'aimait, 1949
  • Perspectives, 1949
  • Léda, 1949
  • Grèce, ma rose de raison, 1949
  • Une leçon de morale, 1949
  • Poèmes pour tous, 1949
  • Hommage aux combattants martyrs du ghetto de Varsovie, 1950
  • Pouvoir tout dire, 1951 (Say Everything)
  • Le phénix, 1951
  • Première anthologie vivante de la poésie du passé, 1951
  • La jarre peut-elle être plus belle que l'eau?, 1951
  • Le Visage de la Paix, 1951
  • Selected Writings, 1951 (translated by Lloyd Alexander)
  • Grain d'aile, 1951
  • Picasso. Dessins, 1952
  • Marines, 1952
  • Les Sentiers et les Routes de la Poésie, 1952
  • Poésie ininterrompue II, 1953
  • Oeil de fumée, 1953
  • Les Sentiers et les Routes de la Poésie, 1954
  • Lettres de jeunesse avec poèmes inédits, 1962
  • Derniers poèmes d'amour, 1963
  • Le poète et son oeuvre, 1964
  • Une longue réfléxion amoureuse, 1966
  • uvres complètes , 1968 (2 vols., edited by Marcelle Dumas and Lucien Scheler)
  • Uninterrupted Poetry: Selected Writings, 1975 (with English translations by Lloyd Alexander; introductory notes by Aragon, Louis Parrot, and Claude Roy)
  • Derniers poem`es d'amour de Paul Eluard, 1980
    - Last Love Poems of Paul Éluard (bilingual; edited and translated by Marilyn Kallet, 1980)
  • Poèmes choisis, 1982 (ed. Pierre Gamarra and Rouben Melik)
  • Lettres à Gala, 1924-1948, 1984
    - Letters to Gala (translated by Jesse Browner, 1989)
  • Selected Poems, 1987 (translated by Gilbert Bowen)
  • Seconde Nature, 1990 (translated by Samuel Beckett; paper-cut by Ian Tyson)
  • Violette Nozières: poèmes, dessins, correspondance, documents, 1991 (foreword by José Pierre)
  • Ombres Et Soleil = Shadows and Sun: Selected Writings of 1913-1952, 1995 (translated by Lloyd Alexander, Cicely Buckley)
  • Correspondance 1919-1944 - "Peut-on changer sans revenir à l' ancien ? changer en avant ?", 2003 (ed. Odile Felgine et Claude-Pierre Pérez)

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