Paul Éluard Essay - Critical Essays

Eugène Grindel

Eluard, Paul


Paul Eluard 1895-1952

(Pseudonym of Eugène Grindel; also wrote under the pseudonyms Jean du Hault and Maurice Hervent) French poet and essayist.

Paul Eluard was a major poet of the surrealist movement in literature. Along with André Breton, Louis Aragon, and Benjamin Peret, Eluard was a developer of this literary movement, during the early 1920s. Derived from dadaism, which expresses nihilism and a sense of meaninglessness, surrealism focusses on the expression of internal and unconscious states of mind. Eluard successfully employed the surrealist technique of “automatic writing,” in which the author writes in a steady flow of uncensored words which, although not logical on the surface, were meant to express inner states of mind. He collaborated in works of automatic writing with Breton and in works combining poetry and collage with the painter Max Ernst. In the late 1930s, Eluard broke with the surrealist movement, due to his increased commitment to the communist party. He became an important political poet, helping to inspire and raise the morale of members of the French Resistance movement, during World War II. Eluard is also known for his powerful love poetry.

Biographical Information

Eluard was born Eugène Grindel in Paris, France, December 14, 1895. At sixteen, Eluard developed a serious illness and went to a sanatorium in Switzerland for cure. While there, he had plenty of time to read poetry and other literature. Upon his return to France, Eluard joined the army, eventually fighting in the trenches during World War I. He was injured in combat when, as a result of inhaling poisonous gas, he contracted gangrene of the bronchi. In 1917, Eluard married Elena Dmitievna Diakanova (whom he called “Gala”), a Russian woman he met while at the sanatorium, and who was the inspiration for much of his love poetry. After the war, Eluard published his first two volumes of poetry, based on his experiences with human suffering, Le devoir et l'inquiétude (1917) and Poèmes pour la paix (1918). In Paris, Eluard became associated with the poets of the dadaist movement, including André Breton, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, and Tristan Tzara. Dadaism first developed before the war, but took on new meaning in the post-war period as an aesthetic movement based on the nihilistic rejection of society's standards and a disgust with rationalism. Eluard participated in a dadaist performance event in which he and another man rang loud bells while the poet Tristan Tzara read aloud from a newspaper. In the early 1920s, Eluard, with Breton, Peret, and Aragon, formulated the surrealist movement as a response to their own dadaism. Surrealism, based partly on the theories of Sigmund Freud, was a literary and artistic movement which aimed to express internal psychological states of mind, as opposed to rational thought. Eluard began utilizing automatic writing to create poetry, a technique designed to evoke in the reader a sense of the workings of the unconscious, as in a dream-state. Eluard combined the aesthetic of surrealism with the romantic elements of the love poem in verse which expressed both human suffering and the emotional heights experienced through love. In 1929, Eluard's wife left him for the surrealist painter Salvador Dali. In 1934 Eluard married Maria Benz. Eluard's political affiliation with the communist party eventually lead to his break with surrealism in 1938. During the German occupation of France in World War II, Eluard became involved with the French Resistance movement, writing poetry which helped to inspire those in sympathy with the resistance. Eluard’s second wife died in 1949. His third wife was Dominique Lemor, whom he met while on a trip to Mexico. Eluard continued to write and publish poetry until his death from a stroke in 1952.

Major Works

Eluard's first volumes of poetry, Le devoir et l'inquiétude (1917) and Poèmes pour la paix (1918) were inspired by his witness to the pain and suffering caused by World War I. His major volumes of surrealist poetry include La rose publique (1934) and Les yeux fertiles (1936). Many of Eluard's love poems are included in the volumes Capitale de la douleur (1926; Capital of Pain) and Poésie ininterrompue (1946). Eluard collaborated on two successful surrealist volumes. Les malheurs des immortels (1930) pairs prose poems by Eluard with collages by surrealist painter Ernst. L'immaculée conception (1930; Immaculate Conception), a collaboration with Breton, utilizes automatic writing in an exploration of mentally ill states of mind. Eluard's poetry written during World War II expresses strong political sentiments, in such volumes as Poésie et vérité (1942; Poetry and Truth) and Au rendezvous allemande (1944). In the post-war years, Eluard produced works of popular lyric poetry, such as Le phénix (1952).

Critical Reception

Eluard is celebrated as a foremost poet of the surrealist movement, who skillfully employed surrealist techniques, such as automatic writing, in his verse and prose poetry. His volumes Capitale de la douleur, La rose publique, and Les yeux fertiles are considered to be masterpieces of surrealist poetry. Yet critics also note the tension between Eluard's sensibilities, which tend toward the lyric, romantic, and humanist, and the strict doctrine of the surrealist aesthetic. Thus, even at the height of his production of surrealist poetry, Eluard's verse maintained lyrical and romantic qualities at odds with surrealism. On the other hand, even after his break with surrealism in 1938, and throughout the remainder of his life, Eluard's poetry retained strong elements of surrealist style. Eluard's love poetry, such as the volume, Capitale de delour, stands on its own as some of the most powerful love poetry ever written. His political poetry, written in response to World War II, is acknowledged as important to the morale of the French resistance, but has been criticized as inferior in style. This political poetry abandons much of the surrealist aesthetic, without reaching the heights of lyrical beauty achieved in his other works. However, the political poetry is respected as an expression of Eluard's strong belief in humanism and the power of love to heal human suffering. In his poetry of the post-World War II period, Eluard is recognized for his popular lyrical poems which held a broad appeal to readers.

Principal Works

Le devoir et l'inquiétude 1917

Poèmes pour la paix 1918

Les nécessités de la vie et les conséquences des rêves 1921

Les malheurs des immortels [Misfortunes of the Immortals; with Max Ernst] 1922

Répétitions 1922

Mourir de ne pas mourir 1924

Capitale de la douleur [Capital of Pain,] 1926

L'amour la poésie 1929

L'immaculée conception [The Immaculate Conception; with André Breton] 1930

A toute épreuve 1930

La vie immédiate 1932

La rose publique 1934

Facile 1935

Les yeux fertiles 1936

Cours naturel 1938

Chanson complète 1939

Donner á voir 1939

Le livre ouvert 1938-1940 2 vols. 1940-42

Poésie et vérité [Poetry and Truth] 1942

Au rendez-vous allemand 1944

Le lit, la table 1944

Le dur désir de durer 1946

Poésie ininterrompue 1946

Poèmes politiques 1948

Premiers poèmes, 1913-1921 1948

Une leçon de morale 1949

Selected Writings of Paul Eluard 1951

Le phénix 1952

Les sentiers et les routes de la pośie (lectures and poetry) 1952

Oeuvres complètes 2 vols. (poetry and essays) 1968

Last Love Poems of Paul Eluard 1980

Selected Poems 1987

Letters to Gala (letters and poetry) 1989

L'evidence poétique Poetic Evidence (essay) 1936

Anthologie des écrits sur l'art 3 vols. (criticism) 1952-1954


Leroy J. Benoit (essay date 1951)

SOURCE: Benoit, Leroy J. “Poetic Themes of Paul Eluard.” Modern Language Quarterly 12, no. 2 (June, 1951): 216-29.

[In the following essay, Benoit provides an overview of central themes of Eluard's poetry during various phases of his life and career.]

The school of surrealism arising in 1924 between two conflicting poetic traditions, namely, the school of les voyants (Saint-Pol-Roux and Lautréamont) and the inspired mysticism of Claudel and Valéry, sought to bring its own measure of balance. Drawing its code from André Breton's Manifeste du surréalisme, it emphasized the application of literary formulas based upon a cooperative work collated from...

(The entire section is 5448 words.)

English Showalter, Jr. (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: Showalter, Jr., English. “Biographical Aspects of Eluard's Poetry.” PMLA 78, (1963): 280-86.

[In the following essay, Showalter discusses Eluard's poetry in the context of three key events in his life: a trip around the world in 1924, the dissolution of his marriage in 1930, and his break with surrealism in 1938.]

The life of Paul Eluard holds a remarkable number of mysteries for that of a man who became prominent rather young and whose friends frequently made a particular effort to have themselves talked about. Specifically, three crises from the first period of his career, when he was attached to the surrealist movement, are either avoided or barely...

(The entire section is 6093 words.)

Robert Nugent (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: Nugent, Robert. “Reality of Experience: The Theory of Love.” In Paul Eluard, pp. 50-69. New York: Twayne, 1974.

[In the following essay, Nugent discusses Eluard's love poetry in terms of the surrealist aesthetic.]


Eluard is perhaps best known as a love poet. Love, as a central theme of Eluard's poetry, becomes especially evident around 1923; yet, throughout his poetic career Eluard wrote poems about the experiences one has in being with another person, loving that person, and being without that person. He further expanded his individual involvement to involvement with humanity, the experiences one has in...

(The entire section is 6753 words.)

Eric Wayne (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: Wayne, Eric. “Oranges and Language in Eluard and Apollinaire.” Romance Notes XIX, no. 3 (spring, 1979): 302-06.

[In the following essay, Wayne discusses Eluard's most famous line of poetry: “The world is blue like an orange.”]

Eluard's most famous line, “La terre est bleue comme une orange,” which begins the seventh poem of “Premièrement,” in L'amour la poésie (1929), is also among his most discussed: references to it are found throughout Eluard criticism, and it figures in a novel (Le Clézio's Le Procès-verbal) where the protagonist questions its divergence from verifiable physical reality. The latter's dilemma resembles...

(The entire section is 1774 words.)

R.A. York (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: York, R.A. “Eluard's Female Landscape.” Orbis Litterarum 35, no. 1 (1980): 59-73.

[In the following essay, York examines the recurring image of “woman as landscape” throughout Eluard's oeuvre.]

This paper seeks to place the image of woman as landscape, frequent in Eluard, in the structure of the poems in which it appears. The image most often indicates a transition within the poem from a state of personal identity to one of impersonality; but this basic structure is subject to systematic modifications affecting the character of the image and of the states preceding and succeeding it; thus poems may imply a range of different values...

(The entire section is 6542 words.)

Sonia Assa (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Assa, Sonia. “Of Hairdressers and Kings: Ready-made Revelations in Les Malheurs des immortels.French Review 64, no. 3 (February, 1991): 643-58.

[In the following essay, Assa discusses Les Malheurs des immortels, a collaborative work of Eluard and Max Ernst, as a “true surrealist collaboration” which addresses some of the key questions raised by the surrealist movement.]

—Quel est ton passe-temps favori?

(Max Ernst: Histoire de ma vie)

When in 1922, Paul Eluard and Max Ernst published a book of poems and collages called Les Malheurs des immortels, André Breton had not yet written...

(The entire section is 6499 words.)

Katharine Conley (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: Conley, Katharine. “Writing the Virgin's Body: Breton and Eluard's Immaculée Conception.French Review 67, no. 4 (March, 1994): 600-08.

[In the following essay, Conley discusses the representation of women in L'Immaculée conception, a book of surrealist poetry co-written by Eluard and André Breton.]

For Andre Breton, Francis Picabia's work merited acclaim as both modern and surreal because, for Breton, Picabia: “demeure le maître de la surprise. … La surprise commande, en effet, toute la notion du ‘moderne’ au seul sens acceptable de préhension, de happement du futur dans le présent” (“Surréalisme” 221). “Le maître de...

(The entire section is 4034 words.)

Jonathan Strauss (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: Strauss, Jonathan. “Paul Eluard and the Origins of Visual Subjectivity.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 33, no. 2 (June, 2000): 25-46.

[In the following essay, Strauss discusses modern theories of subjectivity and vision in terms of the early surrealist poetry of Eluard and André Breton.]

In 1975, clinical psychologists Michael Argyle and Mark Cook assessed the astounding progress recently made in gaze theory and noted admiringly that the field as a whole had existed for little over ten years. Since then, the gaze has become one of the defining intellectual issues of the late 20th-century, leading to significant innovations...

(The entire section is 9526 words.)

Further Reading


Benedikt, Michael. The Poetry of Surrealism: An Anthology. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1974.

An anthology of poetry by the major poets of the surrealist movement, with a brief introduction to each poet.

Bogan, Louise. “Paul Eluard (1939).” In A Poet’s Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art and Vocation, pp. 112-22. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.

Discusses the tension between Eluard’s poetic sensibilities and his adherence to the aesthetics of surrealism.

Fowlie, Wallace. “Eluard: The Doctrine of Love.” In Age of Surrealism, pp. 138-56. Bloomington: Indiana...

(The entire section is 464 words.)