Paul Éluard – The Poet of Freedom

Paul Éluard, born Eugène Grindel (1895 – 1952), Saint-Denis, France, was one of the founders of the Surrealist movement and one of the most important lyrical poets of the 20th century.

In 1916, he chose the name Paul Éluard, a matronymic borrowed from his maternal grandmother. The young Éluard read symbolist and avant-garde poets such as Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, and Guillaume Apollinaire. He also began reading Russian authors Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy.

During World War II, he was the author of several poems against Nazism and is considered the most gifted of French surrealist poets.

His first book was published under the name Paul Éluard in 1917, and introduced him to the world of the Parisian avant-garde. He collaborated with Max Ernst, producing works such as Répétitions (1922). Éluard’s work from this time is known for its emphasis on linguistic and semantic dislocation; in his own poems, he was attempting to allow for visual and sensory perception of poetic meaning.

In 1919, Éluard made the acquaintance of the Surrealist poets André Breton, Philippe Soupault, and Louis Aragon. “Experiments with new verbal techniques, theories on the relation between dream and reality, and the free expression of thought processes produced Capitale de la douleur (“Capital of Sorrow ”, 1926), his first important work. It was followed by La Rose publique (“The Public Rose”, 1934) and Les Yeux fertiles (“The Fertile Eyes”, 1936). The poems in these volumes are considered the best to have come out of the Surrealist movement.“

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, after the Spanish Civil War, Éluard abandoned Surrealist experimentation. His late work reflects his political militance and a deepening of his underlying attitudes: the rejection of tyranny, the search for happiness. In 1942 he joined the Communist Party. His poems dealing with the sufferings and brotherhood of man, Poésie et vérité (1942; “Poetry and Truth”), Au rendez-vous allemand (1944; “To the German Rendezvous”), and Dignes de vivre (1944; “Worthy of Living”), were circulated clandestinely during World War II and served to strengthen the morale of the Resistance. After the war his Tout dire (1951; “Say Everything”) and Le Phénix (1951) added, in simple language and vivid imagery, to the great body of French popular lyrical poetry.


A Single Smile (Un seul sourire)      

A single smile disputes

Each star with the gathering night

A single smile for us both.

And the blue of your joyful eyes

Against the mass of night

Finding its flame in my eyes.

I have seen by needing to know

The deep night create the day

With no change in our appearance.


If I speak, it’s to hear you more clearly,

If I hear you, I’m sure to understand you.

If you smile, it’s the better to enter me,

If you smile, I will see the world entire.

If I embrace you, it’s to widen myself,

If we live, everything will turn to joy.

If I leave you, we’ll remember each other.

In leaving you, we’ll find each other again.

PHOTO: Paul Éluard, 1945, studio photo, Source RMN, Author: Studio Harcourt

Sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Poetry foundation