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Paul Eluard : Poet of change

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30th-Jan-2015       
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On December 14, 1895, Paul Eluard was born as Eugene Grindel on the outskirts of Paris. He was an excellent student as a young boy, but after his family moved to Paris, Éluard was registered at the Ecole Primaire Superieure Colbert, where, by his own admission, he did poorly. His studies were interrupted by illness, and at sixteen he left for a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, where he spent a year and a half.
Shortly after his return to Paris, he entered the army and served in the trenches; he was discharged with gangrene of the bronchi. During his recuperation he read a great deal of poetry, including the works of Arthur Rimbaud. Although his suffering pervaded his writings, Eluard's outlook remained hopeful; he was moved by a strong desire to change the world and to alleviate its misery. Eluard felt an affinity with Walt Whitman, whose Leaves of Grass he read many times over. Le Devoir et l'Inquietude was published in 1917, and in 1918 Poemes pour la Paix appeared. These were the first of more than seventy volumes published in his lifetime.
In Paris Eluard met other young writers, notably Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, and Philippe Soupault, who were active in the Dadaist movement; this group of young writers soon moved toward Surrealism. Eluard signed the original Surrealist manifestos, and his poetry acquired a new character through these influences. Eluard also included among his close friends such visual artists as Picasso, Miro, Tanguy, and Dali.
Eluard was married in 1912; he and his wife, Gala, later had a daughter, Cecile. This marriage failed, however, and in March 1924, Eluard disappeared from the Paris scene and rumours of his death spread. During a seven-month world tour he visited Panama, New Zealand, Australia, Java and Sumatra, India, Indochina, and Ceylon. On his return to Paris, he resumed his role in Surrealist endeavours, editing the reviews Revolution Surrealiste and Surrealisme au Service de la Revolution.
In 1926, with the publication of Capitale de la Douleur, his reputation was established. Around 1931, Éluard fell in love with and married Nusch, who inspired much of his poetry. Their marriage was a happy one, lasting until her death in 1946. The Spanish Civil War aroused Eluard's passions and in 1939 he was again called to military service. During the German occupation of France, he was part of the underground resistance movement, delivering secret papers and assisting in the publication of clandestine literature. His Poesie et Verite (1942) was denounced by the Germans, and Eluard and his wife were forced to move to a different residence every month. In flight from the Gestapo, he took refuge in an insane asylum and was deeply affected by the inmate's misery. During his months there he worked on Souvenirs de la Maison des Fous, which was published after the war. His poems of the Resistance were circulated with powerful effect on French morale. During this period Eluard used the pseudonyms Jean du Hault and Maurice Hervent. In 1942, he joined the underground Communist Party.
Poesie Ininterrompue, a volume of five poems, appeared in 1946. In November of the same year, Le Dur Desir de Durer, illustrated by Marc Chagall, was published. That month, Nusch died unexpectedly. Eluard continued to write poems of circumstance, and in 1948 Poemes Politiques was published. Eluard was very active in Communist affairs, acting as ambassador of the new poetry and travelling extensively, visiting England, Belgium, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Mexico, and the Soviet Union.
Paul Eluard died in 1952, with his third wife, Dominique, at his side.
A Selected Bibliography : Poetry : Le devoir et l'inquietude (1917), Poemes pour la paix (1918), Les necessites d'une view et les consequences des reves (1921), Mourir de ne pas mourir (1924), Capitale de la douleur (1926), L'Amour la poesie (1929), La vie immediate (1932), La rose publique (1934), Les yeux fertiles (1936), Livre ouvert (1940), Poesie et verite (1942), Au rendezvous allemand (1944), Poesie ininterrompue (1946), Selected Poems (1946), Poemes politiques (1948), Le Dur Desir de durer (1950), Selected Writings of Paul Eluard (1951), Dernieres poemes d'amour (1963), Oeuvres completes (1968).
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