A humanitarian of the first order, Paul Eluard wrote very
beautifully of his loves and passionately of his desires for a better world
based on peace, justice and social welfare. He also wrote with great humour
about human beings and their foibles.
He was born on the 14th December 1895 in the Parisian working-class suburb
of Saint-Denis. His real name was Eugène-Emile-Paul Grindel, but in 1916 he
borrowed his maternal grandmother's surname and called himself Paul Eluard.
As a youth he read widely and acquainted himself with many poets chiefly,
Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Lautrèamont and Appollinaire and the English
In 1917 he fell in love with and subsequently married Elena Dmitievna
Diakanova, a Russian Girl nicknamed Gala - his first love, who later left
him for the artist Salvador Dali. Her place was taken by Maria Benz, known
as Nusch - an Alsation woman who became his second wife in 1929. They
stayed together till Nusch's death in 1946.
Like many sensitive artists of his generation, his experiences of the First
World War had left him horrified by its cruelty and apparent futility and
prompted him to become a pacifist. Like others, Eluard had become
disillusioned with the values of the previous generation and in 1919 he
threw his lot in with the Dada movement which had been launched by Tristan
Tzara. It was a movement which challenged all established values and
assumptions - a rejection of convention which preached about revolt. For
Eluard, Loius Aragon, André Breton and Phillipe Soupault, Dada was only a
starting point and it was not long before they eagerly sought a more
In the 1920's, Eluard joined the burgeoning Surrealist movement,
contributing to the Surrealist's first manifesto in 1924. In the years
leading up to the Second World War Eluard's left-wing tendencies grew. He
joined the French Communist Party and became a member of the vigilance
committee of anti-Fascist intellectuals. His greater political awareness
led to him gradually moving away from Surrealism.
From the middle of the 1930s onwards, there was a marked changed in the
style of Eluard's writing. His love poetry was more direct and an
increasing number of poems reflected Eluard's concern with the threat of
fascism and war. The Second World War continued this process. Eluard aided
the anti-nazi resistance movement by helping with the printing and
distribution of countless leaflets, and above all writing poems about hope,
France, the struggle against the occupiers and the new meaning of love.
Some of his most renowned work from this period include the famous poem
Liberté (Liberty), dropped by the RAF on occupied France during the war to
boost morale and resistance.
After the war, Eluard's international fame was at its highest. He continued
to write many volumes of poetry until his death in 1952. A truly gifted and
profound poet who discovered that the great secret of genuine poetry is the
knowledge that men need to be united, to hope, to struggle - in order to
explain the world and to change it.