poem index

About this poet

Born in 1896 to a working-class parents from Tinchenbray (Orne), Normandy, André Breton wrote poetry and studied medicine and psychology at a young age.

During World War I, Breton worked in psychiatric units with traumatized soldiers, employing the work of Freud, whom he had met, in his practice. It was during this time that Breton met Jacque Vaché, a rebellious soldier who would become a friend and important influence. Until Vaché's death 1919, Breton corresponded with him for many years; those letters were published as Letters of War (Lettres de guerre) in 1919.

Although originally a Dadaist, Breton eventually broke away from this group, owing to aesthetic differences. In 1924, he published the Surrealist Manifesto, which outlines surrealist preoccupations and is considered to be the beginning of the Surrealist Movement. It also established Breton as the spearhead of Surrealism, a role he would maintain for the entire duration of the movement.

In the manifesto, Breton defined surrealism as "pure psychic automatism, by which an attempt is made to express—either verbally, in writing or in any other manner— the true functioning of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of all control by reason, excluding any aesthetic or moral preoccupation."

During his lifetime, Breton produced a tremendous body of work that contained poetry, novels, criticism, and theory. Of his oeuvre, the collection of poems Mad Love (1937), the novel Nadja (1928) and the critical text Communicating Vessels (1932) are considered to be his most valuable contributions to the literary world.

Breton died in Paris on September 28, 1966.

Choose Life

André Breton
Choose life instead of those prisms with no depth even if their colors are purer
Instead of this hour always hidden instead of these terrible vehicles of cold flame
Instead of these overripe stones
Choose this heart with its safety catch
Instead of that murmuring pool
And that white fabric singing in the air and the earth at the same time
Instead of that marriage blessing joining my forehead to total vanity's
                                               Choose life



Choose life with its conspiratorial sheets
Its scars from escapes
Choose life choose that rose window on my tomb
The life of being here nothing but being here
Where one voice says Are you there where another answers Are you there
I'm hardly here at all alas
And even when we might be making fun of what we kill
                                               Choose life



Choose life choose life venerable Childhood
The ribbon coming out of a fakir
Resembles the playground slide of the world
Though the sun is only a shipwreck
Insofar as a woman's body resembles it
You dream contemplating the whole length of its trajectory
Or only while closing your eyes on the adorable storm named your hand
                                               Choose life



Choose life with its waiting rooms
When you know you'll never be shown in
Choose life instead of those health spas
Where you're served by drudges
Choose life unfavorable and long
When the books close again here on less gentle shelves
And when over there the weather would be better than better it would be free yes
                                               Choose life



Choose life as the pit of scorn
With that head beautiful enough
Like the antidote to that perfection it summons and it fears
Life the makeup on God's face
Life like a virgin passport
A little town like Pont-á-Mousson
And since everything's already been said
                                               Choose life instead

From Andre Breton: Selections edited by Mark Polizzoti. Copyright © 2003. Reprinted by permission of University of California Press. "Choose Life" translated by Zack Rogow and Bill Zavatsky. All rights reserved.

André  Breton

André Breton

In 1924, he published the Surrealist Manifesto, which outlines surrealist preoccupations and is considered to be the beginning of the Surrealist Movement

by this poet

poem

Someone just died but I'm still alive and yet I don't have a soul anymore. All I have left is a transparent body inside of which transparent doves hurl themselves on a transparent dagger held by a transparent hand. I see struggle in all its beauty, real struggle which nothing can measure, just

poem
It was going on five in the morning
The ship of steam stretched its chain to shatter the windows
And outside
A glowworm
Lifted Paris like a leaf
It was only a long trembling scream
A scream from the Maternity Hospital nearby
FINIS FOUNDRY FANATIC
But whatever joy escaped in the exhalation of that pain
It seems