Paul Éluard is considered the greatest of the surrealist poets. His defined literary personality, the expressive force that characterizes him and the lyricism of his poems made him one of the great universal poets. He wrote to love with the same passion that he did to freedom and against war.
He has been given, informally, all kinds of honorary titles. “Master of surrealist poetry”, “The most classic of modern poets”, “The poet of freedom” or “The greatest poet of love”, among others. It seems that all the qualifiers will fall short before the talent of this wonderful poet.
“We need few words to express the essentials; we need all the words to make it real. “
Like other greats of literature, the secret of their poetry lies in the emotional and intellectual honesty with which they were written. His verses have that subtle, but deep mark of the genuine. In addition, his life had contradictory and difficult episodes, which he raced with creativity and intelligence. His existence was also, in a way, a poem.
Paul Éluard, a sick boy
Paul Éluard was born in Saint Denis (France), an area that had a clear proletarian atmosphere. It happened on December 14, 1885. His real name was Eugene Grindel. At the age of 12 he arrived in Paris and began his studies at the famous Colbert Lyceum. However, he contracted tuberculosis and this forced him to leave high school and spend a long time in a sanatorium in Switzerland. From there they date their first poems.
His first work, Poemas, dates from 1911. In his passage through the sanatorium he read passionately those who became his literary referents: Whitman, Baudelaire, Nerval, Rimbaud, Hölderin and Lautréamont. After that hard trance, Paul Éluard was recruited to go to the front in the First World War, in 1915.
Paul Éluard was one of those poets who did not need a placid atmosphere to let out his verses. In full trench composed two of his most famous works: Duty and restlessness and Laughter of another. At the end of 1917, he was the victim of a severe gas attack and this caused gangrene in the bronchi. That got him out of the confrontation and sent him back to a sanitarium in Paris.
Gala, a passing muse
During his first stay in the sanitarium, Paul Éluard had met another tuberculosis patient who had stolen his heart. It was a Russian girl whose name was Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, but who went down in history with the pseudonym with which she was later known by all: Gala. The war separated them, but then they met again in Paris, in 1917 and they got married.
The greatest quality of Gala was not fidelity. This became clear very soon. When she met the German painter Max Ernst, she was taken with him. It is not known whether by a great mental amplitude or by a desperate love, Paul Éluard did not oppose that relationship. In fact, the three ended up living together in the outskirts of Paris.
Later, during a vacation, Gala met the one who was to become the great love of his life: Salvador Dalí. This ended the marriage with Paul Éluard in 1929 and submerged Éluard into a great depression. After this episode the poet left to go around the world, like a wandering traveler. It also gave rise to some of his most beautiful poems.
A resilient man
Paul Eluard married later, twice. The first, with a woman whom he called “Nusch” and who was Pablo Picasso’s model. The marriage was consolidated in 1934, but she died in 1951. Then she married Dominique, her last love, a year before her own death.
Meanwhile, Paul Éluard had become the poet of freedom. Although his was not to make militant literature in strict sense, he felt called to express in his verses a demand for freedom and justice, and against war. During the Second World War he collaborated with the French resistance and had to go underground.