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Paul Éluard was born as Eugène Grindel on December 14, 1895, on the outskirts of Paris. He was an excellent student as a young boy, but after his family moved to Paris, Éluard was registered at the École Primaire Supérieure Colbert, where, by his own admission, he did poorly. His studies were interrupted by illness, and at sixteen he left for a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, where he spent a year and a half.
Shortly after his return to Paris, Éluard entered the army and served in the trenches; he was discharged with gangrene of the bronchi. During his recuperation he read a great deal of poetry, including the works of Arthur Rimbaud. Although his suffering pervaded his writings, Éluard's outlook remained hopeful; he was moved by a strong desire to change the world and to alleviate its misery. Éluard felt an affinity with Walt Whitman, whose Leaves of Grass he read many times over. Le Devoir et l'Inquiétude was published in 1917, and in 1918 Poèmes pour la Paix appeared. These were the first of more than seventy volumes published in his lifetime.
In Paris, Éluard met other young writers, notably André Breton, Louis Aragon, and Philippe Soupault, who were active in the Dadaist movement; this group of young writers soon moved toward Surrealism. Éluard signed the original Surrealist manifestos, and his poetry acquired a new character through these influences. Éluard also included among his close friends such visual artists as Picasso, Miró, Tanguy, and Dali.
Éluard was married in 1912; he and his wife, Gala, later had a daughter, Cécile. This marriage failed, however, and in March 1924, Éluard disappeared from the Paris scene and rumors of his death spread. During a seven-month world tour he visited Panama, New Zealand, Australia, Java and Sumatra, India, Indochina, and Ceylon. On his return to Paris, he resumed his role in Surrealist endeavors, editing the reviews Révolution Surréaliste and Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution.
In 1926, with the publication of Capitale de la Douleur, Éluard’s reputation was established. Around 1931, he fell in love with and married the performer and artist, Nusch, who inspired much of his poetry. Their marriage was a happy one, lasting until her death in 1946. The Spanish Civil War aroused Éluard's passions and in 1939 he was again called to military service. During the German occupation of France, he was part of the underground resistance movement, delivering secret papers and assisting in the publication of clandestine literature. His Poésie et Vérité (1942) was denounced by the Germans, and Éluard and his wife were forced to move to a different residence every month. In flight from the Gestapo, he took refuge in an insane asylum and was deeply affected by the inmate's misery. During his months there he worked on Souvenirs de la Maison des Fous, which was published after the war. His poems of the Resistance were circulated with powerful effect on French morale. During this period Éluard used the pseudonyms Jean du Hault and Maurice Hervent. In 1942, he joined the underground Communist Party.
Poésie Ininterrompue, a volume of five poems, appeared in 1946. In November of the same year, Le Dur Désir de Durer, illustrated by Marc Chagall, was published. That month, Nusch died unexpectedly. Éluard continued to write poems of circumstance, and in 1948 Poèmes Politiques was published. Éluard was very active in Communist affairs, acting as ambassador of the new poetry and travelling extensively, visiting England, Belgium, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Mexico, and the Soviet Union.
Paul Éluard died in 1952 at the age of fifty-six, with his third wife, Dominique, at his side.