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Paul Éluard (1895-1952):

Life
 Was drawn to Dadaism after surviving lung disease and gas attacks in WWI.
 Helped found the surrealism movement with André Breton, Philippe Soupault, and Louis
Aragon up until 1938
 Left the Surrealists after the Spanish Civil War, then joined the Communist Party in 1942
with Pablo Picasso.

Poetry
 Wanted to explore the relationship between dreams and reality and free expression of
thought. Used the phrase la vie immediate to describing experiencing perfection in the
subconscious
 Believed that women were meant to be revered as the main subject of poetry
 His most well-known works are Capitale de la douleur (1926), La rose publique (1934), and
Les Yeux fertiles (1936).
 Explored the perspectives of people suffering from mental disorders with André Breton in
L’Immaculée Conception (1930).
 After his surrealist works, his poetry became increasingly political. He lamented the suffering
of his fellow man and tried to boost the morale of the Resistance
 His post-WWII poetry Tout Dire (1951) and Le Phénix (1951) became very popular as lyrical
poetry

Source:
Burnshaw, Stanley. The Poem Itself. Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press, 1995.

“Paul Éluard.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Paul-


Eluard. Date Accessed 2 April 2020.
Paul Éluard
La Dame de Carreau
 This prose work is at a level where it becomes debatable as to what makes it poetry. Almost
every sentence in La Dame de Carreau surprisingly holds “grammatical” water with clear
subjects and verbs, and even some instances of hypotaxis. While there are some lovely, poetic
ideas and emotions within the work, all meter and rhyme have been stripped away. A good
portion of the lines are short, simple sentences without any experimentation in the order of
words. If someone were to read this work aloud outside of any context, I would almost think
that it was an abstract, self-reflective short story or a journal entry about a recurring dream.
This stands in contrast to the occasional rhythmic consistency in the prose of Apollinaire or
Rimbaud.
 The way the surrealists sought after signs and fortune tellers reminds me of the mysticism of
the late Romantic and early Symbolist poets. The gap in between around Verlaine to Éluard
produced more “scientific”, intellectual poems that thought about the poet’s place in the world.
I think that many in the literary and artistic worlds blamed these values for causing WWI,
returning instead to a looser, hazier conception of an individual feeling his way through fate.
 Éluard’s depiction of love in this work is really tender. He was 29 at the time it was published,
but I would not be surprised if he was younger when he wrote it, especially considering the
depiction of the scene at school. There is an emphasis on purity and virginity as well as the
innocence, earnestness, and embarrassment that sometimes accompany love.
 The idea of storing up the dazzling light of purity to observe his dreams (« pour regarder la
nuit, toute la nuit, toutes les nuits ») is succinct and resonant. Not only is he guided by this
light through the shifting scenes of his dreams, but he also literally sets aside a part of his day
to recount his somnolent encounters with the mysterious virgin.
 « Mais ce n’est jamais la même femme » represents a subtle shift in poetry. Before, poets
crafted their descriptions of beauty around a singular–or sometimes just a few–muses and then
occasionally saw reflections of her in other women. They chased after and treasured aspects of
feminine perfection. Éluard here is has no singular, ideal woman but a general love for all
women. The commonality between each instance is no longer in the woman herself, but in his
experience and amazement at each of them. I would say this is more of a modern ideal
(although it’s debatable) which stretches all the way to the present where you might be called
“old-fashioned” for thinking that a one, true love exists that can satisfy and endlessly please.
Paul Éluard
À Peine Défigurée
 I find it amazing that poets are able to so properly meld specific emotions into the context of
their words. Éluard demonstrates in this short poem that sadness has a distinct effect and
presence compared to the other emotions expressed in classical poetry like melancholy or
misery. I agree with Éluard’s depiction of the feeling. It is not particularly deep like sorrow,
but instead is “etched” or « inscrite » into the people and objects around us. It is not all-
encompassing like heartache but flashes here and there in order to leave just an impression of
nostalgic discomfort. The short-term effects left by sadness are just as flighty as sadness’
conqueror–as Éluard noted–« un sourire ».
 I really like the idea of this poem, but severely question the structure. Éluard forms the poem
as before out of short, fully complete sentences that seem choppy and out of place in a poem.
The length of the lines are varied, but to the detriment of the work in my opinion. Line 7 and
8 have the largest discrepancy in length of any adjacent lines, but somehow the end of the
first stanza is supposed to denounce sadness with only four syllables. I can see how Éluard
may have thought to delay finality of the poem, but this places the mechanics at odds with
the theme. It would have been better to switch the order of the stanzas and split line 7 after
« pauvres ».
 One stylistic choice that I liked was the omission of punctuation. In a poem that explores a
feeling more than a thought, say, like in a work by Valéry, punctuation is usually
unnecessary and distracting. The phrases can get walled-off from one another while
speaking, and the poem can look strained on the page under the weight of typography.
 The sounds of the poem are subtly differentiated. Éluard compounds the double t sound in
« tristesse » with words like « inscrite », « tout », « amabilité », « monstre », and
« désappointée ». On the other hand, the r is drawn out in « misère », « par un sourire », and
« amour ». Only a surface level juxtaposition, but by the theme of the poem, so is the battle
between sadness and love.

Paul Éluard
[Mon amour…]
 The similes in this poem are painfully simple. It is hard to appreciate, and I felt the need to
resist harsh criticism. In fairness, I am not surprised by this poem and it doesn’t evoke a
feeling other than maybe sleepiness.
 The last line of the poem is the strongest and clearly the linchpin of the work. It is interesting
to first use dream in the sense of to long for and then force it together–like two magnetic
north poles–with the other more literal meaning. The overlap brings questions to the surface
about the meaning of dreams and whether desires are expressions of the subconscious. The
psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud became very popular following WWI, and their
effects can be seen in Éluard’s poetic interests.
Paul Éluard
[Je cache les sombres trésors]
 More than the other surrealist poets in the anthology, Éluard stays true to an examination of
dreams. It is clear that he attributes them significance. Commonly in his poems, the
inspiration for a dream is contained in experiences “stored up” in the mind prior to falling
asleep. This also may be the source of his emotional clarity if he truly reexamined the events
of yesterday every night with his eyes closed. His theory lifts dreams from being a state of
mere unconsciousness to a kind of second life in which one passes another day bathed in the
light of revelation as a substitution for sunlight.
 Elements in this poem reveal just how important sleep and dreams were to Éluard. He notes
that he is crowned by a nocturnal horizon. This brings to mind an entire world or frontier in
and around the head of someone slumbering. There is also a sudden enjambment in line 3 on
the word « sommeil ». This reminds me of someone who suddenly realizes they are asleep
and experiences a lucid dream. From this point on in the poem, the poet is robed in
confidence and dives head first into the birth of new images. Éluard is the antithesis of many
previously studied poets in this respect. He bares all, faithfully sharing every new thought
and desire that buds in his brain. There is no allusion, like Nerval, or rare words, like
Rimbaud, or special knowledge, like Perse, to hide behind or obscure the honest delivery of
his dreams.

Paul Éluard
[Amoureuse…]
 I thought the translation for this poem in the commentary was a bit strange, particularly
considering how straightforward Éluard’s sentences are. Regardless, the poem is a little
strange too, at least after line 6. I don’t think that there is a deeper meaning to beginning
ideas based on his other works. He expresses sexual attraction in a modest way that shows
his elevated view of love and women. There is clarity in how he wishes to enjoy the
pleasures of sexual intimacy, and his goal is stated in the last two lines. I’m not sure how
kisses seen in someone’s eyes, either metaphorically or in a reflection, can show only one
person. I can reason that maybe the kisses are representative of her in totality and she is
perfectly summed up by desire, but the shift in tone and discrepancy in clarity at the poem’s
conclusion is confusing.

Paul Éluard
Couvre-Feu
 This poem is really more of a chant. It succeeds for me more than most other wartime poetry
in that it really makes me route for France on a personal level more than an intellectual one.
Éluard lets his audience know that the Resistance are the underdogs and that they are
grounded in their ideals. They do not fight merely for a selfish desire to win back all that was
taken in lines 1 through 7, but they fight for their love for one another.
Paul Éluard
[Je n’ai envie que de t’aimer]
 There is slightly more abstraction in this poem’s figurative language than others, but the
simplicity of ideas is still considerable when compared to other poets. The balance attained
and restraint exhibited is admirable and characteristic.
 Éluard’s straightforward style has an unexpected side effect: his works are sometimes flooded
with monosyllabic throw-away words. This poem in particular gets very tangled in all the
components of certain French grammatical structures like ne…que, ne plus rien, ce que, and
the two reflexive verbs used. This is a minor complaint that perhaps only a non-native speaker
would have, but only a few of the lines have words that carry meaning by themselves. The
sounds of these shorter words are less pleasing to the ear than words of more average length,
and this renders a performance of the poem a bit awkward.
 There is repetition of « des jours [et] des nuits » in lines 6 and 10. First, the poet has made day
and night for the two to understand one another. Then, day and night are ruled by her eyelids,
in particular, whether they are open or closed. There is a sense that the relationship has
progressed from vernal and innocent to a more advanced, dreamlike state. Their initial curiosity
has yielded deep understanding of one another and richer compliments such as line 8.
 The conclusion of the poem inverts two Biblical concepts. First, he wants nothing more than
to see a world in her image. This phrase is obviously borrowed from the Christian creation
story, but replaces God with the poet’s lover. Secondly, he yields all control of his day and
night to her eyelids. This level of submission could be seen as somewhat contrary to the Judeo-
Christian view that the man is the head of the relationship–and more than in the theological
sense–contrary to the patriarchal norm of the work’s time period. Éluard intends there to be a
kind of shock with these last two lines, but they remain consistent with his attitude towards
women.

Paul Éluard
Le Baiser
 Éluard has high praise for women in almost all of his poems. He accepts feminine sexuality
without condemnation and was ahead of his time for not shying away from the subject. So it
is to such a degree that it is almost as if the poems are written from the perspective of a
woman.
 He depicts sex in such a spiritual and tender light, depicting a resulting transcendence as if
incorporating another into one’s own body leads to a greater reunion with divine powers.
Additionally, Éluard may be playing with the idea of la petite mort as she seems to ascend
into Heaven following the lovers’ embrace.
 The phrase « révélée à l’infini » is of interest. The accents and resulting sounds point
upwards towards the spiritual and the r builds momentum leading into the last words of the
poem. Additionally, the presence of the three evenly-spaced accents is a subtle reminder of
the Trinity.