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About this poet

Born on July 4, 1900, in Paris, Robert Desnos was the son of a café owner. He attended commercial college, and then worked as a clerk before becoming a literary columnist for the newspaper Paris-Soir. He first published poems in the Dadaist magazine Littérature in 1919, and in 1922 he published his first book, Rrose Selavy, a collection of surrealistic aphorisms.

While on leave in Morocco from his mandatory two years in the French Army, Desnos befriended poet Andre Breton. Together with writers Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard, Breton and Desnos would form the vanguard of literary surrealism. They practiced a technique known as "automatic writing," and many hailed Desnos as the most accomplished practitioner. Breton, in the Manifesto of Surrealism, 1924, singled out Desnos for particular praise. The technique involved drifting into a trance and then recording the associations and leaps of the subconscious mind. Desnos' poems from this time are playful (often using puns and homonyms), sensual, and serious. The 1920s were an extremely creative period for Desnos; between 1920 and 1930, he published more than eight books of poetry, including Language cuit (1923), Deuil pour deuil (1924), Journal d'une apparition (1927), and The Night of Loveless Nights (1930).

In the 1930s, Desnos diverged slightly from his Surrealist peers. Breton, in his Second Manifesto of Surrealism, 1930, would criticize Desnos for straying from the movement and for his journalistic work. In part, Desnos had simply grown tired of his own excesses—both in his creative and personal life. It was at this time that he married Youki Foujita and took on more commercial writing assignments for French radio and television. His poems became more direct and musical, though still maintaining some of their earlier adventurous style. Desnos continued to write throughout the decade; in 1936 he wrote a poem per day for the entire year. His published works from this time include Corps et biens (1930), and Le sans cou (1934).

In 1939 at the onset of World War II, Desnos again served in the French Army. During the German occupation, he returned to Paris and under pseudonyms such as Lucien Gallois and Pierre Andier, Desnos published a series of essays that subtly mocked the Nazis. These articles combined with his work for the French Resistance led to his arrest. Desnos was sent to first to Auschwitz, and then transferred to a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Although the Allies liberated this camp in 1945, Desnos had contracted typhoid. He died on June 8, 1945.

His Selected Poems were first translated and published in English in 1972, (by William Kulik with Carole Frankel), and again in 1991 (translated by Carolyn Forché and William Kulik).

The Voice of Robert Desnos

Robert Desnos, 1900 - 1945
So like a flower and a current of air
the flow of water fleeting shadows
the smile glimpsed at midnight this excellent evening
so like every joy and every sadness
it is the midnight past lifting its naked body above belfries and poplars
I call to me those lost in the fields
old skeletons young oaks cut down
scraps of cloth rotting on the ground and linen drying in farm country
I call tornadoes and hurricanes
storms typhoons cyclones
tidal waves
earthquakes
I call the smoke of volcanoes and the smoke of cigarettes
the rings of smoke from expensive cigars
I call lovers and loved ones
I call the living and the dead
I call gravediggers I call assassins
I call hangmen pilots bricklayers architects
assassins
I call the flesh
I call the one I love
I call the one I love
I call the one I love
the jubilant midnight unfolds its satin wings and perches on my bed
the belfries and the poplars bend to my wish
the former collapse the latter bow down
those lost in the fields are found in finding me
the old skeletons are revived by my voice
the young oaks cut down are covered with foliage
the scraps of cloth rotting on the ground and in the earth
	snap to at the sound of my voice like a flag of rebellion
the linen drying in farm country clothes adorable women 
	whom I do not adore
who come to me
obeying my voice, adoring
tornadoes revolve in my mouth
hurricanes if it is possible redden my lips
storms roar at my feet
typhoons if it is possible ruffle me
I get drunken kisses from the cyclones
the tidal waves come to die at my feet
the earthquakes do not shake me but fade completely
	at my command
the smoke of volcanoes clothes me with its vapors
and the smoke of cigarettes perfumes me
and the rings of cigar smoke crown me
loves and love so long hunted find refuge in me
lovers listen to my voice
the living and the dead yield to me and salute me
	the former coldly the latter warmly
the gravediggers abandon the hardly-dug graves
	and declare that I alone may command their nightly work
the assassins greet me
the hangmen invoke the revolution
invoke my voice
invoke my name
the pilots are guided by my eyes
the bricklayers are dizzied listening to me
the architects leave for the desert
the assassins bless me
flesh trembles when I call

the one I love is not listening
the one I love does not hear
the one I love does not answer.

By Robert Desnos, translated and edited by William Kulik, and published by Ecco Press in The Selected Poems of Robert Desnos. © 1991 by William Kulik. Used with Permission. All rights reserved.

By Robert Desnos, translated and edited by William Kulik, and published by Ecco Press in The Selected Poems of Robert Desnos. © 1991 by William Kulik. Used with Permission. All rights reserved.

Robert Desnos

Robert Desnos

Born in 1900, Robert Desnos was a poet who belonged to the Surrealist movement

by this poet

poem

No, love is not dead in this heart these eyes and this mouth
that announced the start of its own funeral.
Listen, I've had enough of the picturesque, the colorful
and the charming.
I love love, its tenderness and cruelty.
My love has only one name, one form.
Everything
poem
I am fighting furiously with animals and bottles
In a short time perhaps ten hours have passed one
   after another
The beautiful swimmer who was afraid of coral wakes
   this morning
Coral crowned with holly knocks on her door
Ah! coal again always coal
I conjure you coal tutelary genius of dreams and my