Hyperion Records

Éluard, Paul (1895-1952)  
Paul Éluard in 1930

Paul Éluard

born: 14 December 1895
died: 18 November 1952
country: France

Paul Éluard was the pseudonym of Eugène Émile Paul Grindel (Éluard was in fact the name of his maternal grandmother). He was born into a comfortable middle-class household in Saint-Denis, just outside Paris, on 14 December 1895. Although Éluard was always associated with the Left and with working-class causes, his father was a chartered accountant who became a successful estate agent. Three things jolted the young man out of the comfort-zone of a bourgeois existence: illness, war and love. A sudden and severe pulmonary haemorrhage at the age of seventeen consigned him to months of enforced immobility at a sanatorium of Clavadel, near Davos, where he read deeply and widely; the crystalline Swiss mountain landscapes by which he was surrounded were later to influence his poems. A young Russian student by the name of Helena Dmitrovnie Diakonova was a fellow-patient at the same institution. Her nickname was ‘Gala’; after some years of separation Éluard was to marry her in 1917 when on military leave. Despite his ongoing infirmity he had volunteered for the front; his first published work, Le devoir et l’inquiétude (1917) describes the misery, comradeship and solidarity of the soldiers who suffered in the trenches.

After his demobilization, already a young husband and father, Éluard was introduced to André Breton and Louis Aragon and soon assumed his place as a member of the Parisian avant-garde, publishing several collections of poetry. In 1921 Éluard met the German painter and sculptor Max Ernst (1891–1976), the first of his many painter friends and one of the most influential on his development (there are thirty-two painters celebrated in Éluard’s 1948 anthology Voir, including Ernst). His seminal role in Éluard’s career has been compared to that of Virgil guiding Dante in the perilous regions of the dream-like inferno that was to become Surrealism. The poet chose six of Ernst’s collages to illustrate his collection Répétitions. Éluard, Ernst and Gala settled into a ménage à trois, the German painter having left his wife and son. Their shared home at Eaubonne near Paris was decorated with Ernst’s murals. In 1924 there was a personal and conjugal crisis and Éluard suddenly left Paris for Saigon. Both Ernst and Gala followed him there at his behest; it was decided in Vietnam that Gala would stay with Éluard—although he was eventually to lose her to another painter, Salvador Dali, in 1929. The poet had a lifelong hatred for possessive jealousy, believing rather in the innocence of desire; sexual liberty was a reflection of fraternal sharing and openness of heart. Éluard took the subject of love extremely seriously: the erotic freedom he espoused was never simply an excuse for libertinage, and each of his partners was accorded the elevated role of Muse in a seamless tapestry of creativity. The work of the poet, like that of his close friend Picasso, has often been defined by the major female figures of his life—Gala, Nusch, Jacqueline and Dominique. It is the second of these, Nusch, who was often the inspiration of the poems that Poulenc chose for his settings.

Together with Breton, Philippe Soupault and Aragon, Éluard was the founder of Surrealism, a movement that grew out of Dadaism, although the term had been coined much earlier by Apollinaire. In October 1924, soon after Éluard and Gala returned to France from Saigon, Breton published his Manifeste de Surréalisme. This defines the movement as a ‘purely psychic automatism by which it is proposed to explain, be it verbally, be it in writing or by quite other means, the true functioning of thought. Dictated by thought in the absence of all control by reason, outside all aesthetic or moral occupations, Surrealism rests on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of associations, formerly neglected, and in the transcendent power of dreams released from any interference by thought. It tends to destroy all other psychic mechanisms and to take their place in the resolution of the principal problems of life.’ It follows that every reading of a surreal poem is wholly individual.

Several important poetry collections were published in this period—from Capitale de la douleur (1926, the year Éluard joined the Communist party) to La vie immédiate (1932). In 1930, the same year that Éluard published his collection À toute épreuve, he had met Maria Benz, a destitute music-hall and circus performer from Alsace, eleven years younger, who went by the name of Nusch. The poet’s discovery and rescue of this highly intuitive waif brings to mind an older version of Mignon, the child-acrobat saved by Wilhelm Meister in Goethe’s novel. The couple married in 1934. Graceful, light-hearted and luminously beautiful (she was one of Picasso’s favourite models), Nusch was the poet’s ideal companion and inspiration. The collection Les yeux fertiles (1936) celebrates Éluard’s friendship with Pablo Picasso; the powerful affinity of poet and painter, both personal and political, was reinforced by the rise of Fascism and the outrage of Guernica.

By 1938 Éluard had broken with Breton whose brand of ‘pure’ Surrealism became anathema to him; instead he preferred to develop his own kind of Promethean humanism, a joyful celebration of the fraternity of mankind where women are the spiritual mediators, a philosophy light years away from the dour and dogmatic Stalinism of some of his associates. Le livre ouvert I (1940) was one of the first collections in which the poet, now taken up by Nusch and themes of love, more or less turned his back on the didactic preoccupations of his former colleagues. The occupation of France and the resistance, far from extinguishing these themes in the poet’s works, reinforced his visionary optimism and determination (Poésie et vérité 1942—a title that translated Goethe’s Dichtung und Wahrheit as a dig at the occupying forces—and Rendez-vous allemand, 1944). In these two collections the radiant poem Liberté proclaims the ‘power of a word’ by which the poet can begin his life afresh: ‘I was born to know you / To name you / Liberty.’

Éluard had always been fragile in terms of his health. He often left Paris for sojourns in the mountains and by the sea, holidays that were facilitated by the family money that enabled him to survive in relative comfort. Nevertheless it was Nusch who died first—of a totally unexpected cerebral haemorrhage in November 1946 while visiting the poet’s mother. This sudden loss rendered Éluard suicidal. He was consoled by the affections of Jacqueline Trutat who inspired a different kind of poetry in Éluard, as did Dominique Laure who became his tender and vigilant wife in 1951. The poet died of a sudden heart attack on 18 November 1952.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2013

Albums
'Jackson: Not no faceless Angel & other choral works' (CDA67708)
Jackson: Not no faceless Angel & other choral works
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'Poulenc: Secular choral music' (CDA66798)
Poulenc: Secular choral music
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'Poulenc: The Complete Songs' (CDA68021/4)
Poulenc: The Complete Songs
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'Poulenc: Voyage à Paris' (CDH55366)
Poulenc: Voyage à Paris
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55366  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Alphabetical listing of all musical works
… mais mourir, FP137 (Poulenc)
A peine défigurée  No 2 of Sept Chansons (Poulenc)
À toutes brides  No 5 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Amoureuses  No 5 of Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard, FP77 (Poulenc)
Âne ou vache coq ou cheval  First line to Marc Chagall, No 2 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Aussi bas que le silence  Movement 3 of Figure humaine (Poulenc)
Belle et ressemblante  No 5 of Sept Chansons (Poulenc)
Bois meurtri  Movement 3 of Un soir de neige (Poulenc)
Bonne journée  No 1 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Ce doux petit visage, FP99 (Poulenc)
Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard, FP77 (Poulenc)
Dans les ténèbres du jardin  No 4 of La fraîcheur et le feu, FP147 (Poulenc)
De grandes cuillers de neige  Movement 1 of Un soir de neige (Poulenc)
De jour merci de nuit prends garde  First line to Juan Gris, No 4 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
De tous les printemps du monde  Movement 1 of Figure humaine (Poulenc)
Elles ont les épaules hautes  First line to Amoureuses, No 5 of Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard, FP77 (Poulenc)
En chantant les servantes s'élancent  Movement 2 of Figure humaine (Poulenc)
Entoure ce citron de blanc d’œuf informe  First line to Pablo Picasso, No 1 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Figure de force brûlante et farouche  No 8 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Figure humaine (Poulenc)
Georges Braque  No 3 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Homme au sourire tendre  No 6 of La fraîcheur et le feu, FP147 (Poulenc)
I gaze upon you and the sun grows large  First line to Song 'I gaze upon you' (Jackson)
Il la prend dans ses bras  No 2 of Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard, FP77 (Poulenc)
Irrémédiable vie  First line to Jacques Villon, No 7 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Jacques Villon  No 7 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Je n'ai envie que de t'aimer  No 7 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Je nommerai ton front  No 2 of Miroirs brûlants, FP98 (Poulenc)
Joan Miró  No 6 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Juan Gris  No 4 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
La bonne neige  Movement 2 of Un soir de neige (Poulenc)
La fraîcheur et le feu, FP147 (Poulenc)
La grande rivière qui va  No 7 of La fraîcheur et le feu, FP147 (Poulenc)
La menace sous le ciel rouge  Movement 7 of Figure humaine (Poulenc)
La nuit le froid la solitude  Movement 4 of Un soir de neige (Poulenc)
Le front comme un drapeau perdu  No 3 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Le jour m'étonne et la nuit me fait peur  Movement 6 of Figure humaine (Poulenc)
Le matin les branches attisent  No 2 of La fraîcheur et le feu, FP147 (Poulenc)
Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
LIBERTÉ  Movement 8 of Figure humaine (Poulenc)
Luire  No 7 of Sept Chansons (Poulenc)
Main dominée par le cœur, FP135 (Poulenc)
Mains agitées aux grimaces nouées  First line to … mais mourir, FP137 (Poulenc)
Marc Chagall  No 2 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Miroirs brûlants, FP98 (Poulenc)
Nous avons fait la nuit  No 9 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Pablo Picasso  No 1 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Par une nuit nouvelle  No 3 of Sept Chansons (Poulenc)
Paul Klee  No 5 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Peut-il se reposer  No 1 of Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard, FP77 (Poulenc)
Plume d'eau claire  No 3 of Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard, FP77 (Poulenc)
Rayons des yeux  No 1 of La fraîcheur et le feu, FP147 (Poulenc)
Riant du ciel et des planètes  Movement 5 of Figure humaine (Poulenc)
Rien que ce doux petit visage  First line to Ce doux petit visage, FP99 (Poulenc)
Rôdeuse au front de verre  No 4 of Cinq poèmes de Paul Éluard, FP77 (Poulenc)
Sept Chansons (Poulenc)
Soleil de proie prisonnier de ma tête  First line to Joan Miró, No 6 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Song 'I gaze upon you' (Jackson)
Sur la pente fatale le voyageur profite  First line to Paul Klee, No 5 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Toi ma patiente  Movement 4 of Figure humaine (Poulenc)
Tous les droits  No 4 of Sept Chansons (Poulenc)
Tout disparut  No 3 of La fraîcheur et le feu, FP147 (Poulenc)
Tu vois le feu du soir  No 1 of Miroirs brûlants, FP98 (Poulenc)
Un oiseau s’envole  First line to Georges Braque, No 3 of Le travail du peintre, FP161 (Poulenc)
Un soir de neige (Poulenc)
Une chanson de porcelaine, FP169 (Poulenc)
Une herbe pauvre  No 6 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Une roulotte couverte en tuiles  No 4 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Une ruine coquille vide  No 2 of Tel jour telle nuit, FP86 (Poulenc)
Unis la fraîcheur et le feu  No 5 of La fraîcheur et le feu, FP147 (Poulenc)
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