Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology

By Francis Frascina; Charles Harrison et al. | Go to book overview
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34 Poetic Evidence

Paul Eluard

The time has come for poets to proclaim their right and duty to maintain that they are deeply involved in the life of other men, in communal life.

On the high peaks! yes, I know there have always been a few to try and delude us with that sort of nonsense; but, as they were not there, they have not been able to tell us that it was raining there, that it was dark and bitterly cold, that there one was still aware of man and his misery; that there one was still aware and had to be aware of vile stupidity, and still hear muddy laughter and the words of death. On the high peaks, as elsewhere, more than elsewhere perhaps, for him who sees, for the visionary, misery undoes and remakes incessantly a world, drab, vulgar, unbearable and impossible.

No greatness exists for him that would grow. There is no model for him that seeks what he has never seen. We all belong to the same rank. Let us do away with the others.

Employing contradictions purely as a means to equality, and unwilling to please and be self-satisfied, poetry has always applied itself, in spite of all sorts of persecutions, to refusing to serve other than its own ends, an undesirable fame and the various advantages bestowed upon conformity and prudence.

And what of pure poetry? Poetry's absolute power will purify men, all men. 'Poetry must be made by all. Not by one.' So said Lautréamont. All the ivory towers will be demolished, all speech will be holy, and, having at last come into the reality which is his, man will need only to shut his eyes to see the gates of wonder opening.

Bread is more useful than poetry. But love, in the full, human sense of the word, the passion of love is not more useful than poetry. Since man puts himself at the top of the scale of living things, he cannot deny value to his feelings, however non-productive they may be. 'Man,' says Feuerbach, 'has the same senses as the animals, but in man sensation is not relative and subordinated to life's lower needs it is an absolute being, having its own end and its own enjoyment.' This brings us back to necessity. Man has constantly to be aware of his supremacy over nature in order to guard himself against it and conquer it.

In his adolescence man is obsessed by the nostalgia of his childhood; in his maturity, by the nostalgia of his youth; in old age, by the bitterness of having lived. The poet's images grow out of something to be forgotten and something to be remembered. Wearily he projects his prophecies into the past. Everything he creates vanishes with the man he was yesterday. Tomorrow holds out the promise of novelty. But there is no today in his present.

Imagination lacks the imitative instinct. It is the spring and torrent which we do not re-ascend. Out of this living sleep daylight is ever born and ever dying it returns there. It is a universe without association, a universe which is not a part of a greater

____________________
Source: H. Read (ed.), Surrealism (Faber, 1936), pp. 171-183. Originally given as a lecture at the New Burlington Galleries, 24 June 1936. Translated by George Reavey. Illustrations have been omitted.

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