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.

The Forest in the Axe

André Breton

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 before the last star comes out. The rented body I live in like a hut detests the soul I had which floats in the distance. It's time to put an end to that famous dualism for which I've been so much reproached. Gone are the days when eyes without light and rings drew sediment from pools of color. There's neither red nor blue anymore. Unanimous red-blue fades away in turn like a robin redbreast in the hedges of inattention. Someone just died,—not you or I or they exactly, but all of us, except me who survives by a variety of means: I'm still cold for example. That's enough. A match! A match! Or how about some rocks so I can split them, or some birds so I can follow them, or some corsets so I can tighten them around dead women's waists, so they'll come back to life and love me, with their exhausting hair, their disheveled glances! A match, so no one dies for brandied plums, a match so the Italian straw hat can be more than a play! Hey, lawn! Hey, rain! I'm the unreal breath of this garden. The black crown resting on my head is a cry of migrating crows because up till now there have only been those who were buried alive, and only a few of them, and here I am the first aerated dead man. But I have a body so I can stop doing myself in, so I can force reptiles to admire me. Bloody hands, misteltoe eyes, a mouth of dried leaves and glass (the dried leaves move under the glass; they're not as red as one would think, when indifference exposes its voracious methods), hands to gather you, miniscule thyme of my dreams, rosemary of my extreme pallor. I don't have a shadow anymore, either. Ah my shadow, my dear shadow. I should write a long letter to the shadow I lost. I'd begin it My Dear Shadow. Shadow, my darling. You see. There's no more sun. There's only one tropic left out of two. There's only one man left in a thousand. There's only one woman left in the absence of thought that characterizes in pure black this cursed era. That woman holds a bouquet of everlastings shaped like my blood.

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

From Andre Breton: Selections edited by Mark Polizzoti. Copyright © 2003. Reprinted by permission of University of California Press. "The Forest in the Axe" 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
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
poem
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