Biography of Robert Desnos
Robert Desnos, the son of a café owner, was born on July 4, 1900, in Paris.
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, Prose 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.
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Robert Desnos Poems
I Have Dreamed of You so Much
I have dreamed of you so much that you are no longer real. Is there still time for me to reach your breathing body, to kiss your mouth and make your dear voice come alive again?
If You Only Knew
Far from me and like the stars, the sea and all the trappings of poetic myth, Far from me but here all the same without your knowing, Far from me and even more silent because I imagine you endlessly. Far from me, my lovely mirage and eternal dream, you cannot know.
Many times upon a time There was a man who loved a woman. Many times upon a time There was a woman who loved a man.
I lived in those times. For a thousand years I have been dead. Not fallen, but hunted; When all human decency was imprisoned, I was free amongst the masked slaves.
The Ring of Stars
In order to make a star with five branches Where six would have been the same A circle must first be drawn In order to make a star with five branches ...
Under Cover of Night
To slip into your shadow under cover of night. To follow your footsteps, your shadow at the window. That shadow at the window is you and no one else; it's you.
The flower of the Alps told the seashell: "You're shining" The seashell told the sea: "You echo" The sea told the boat: "You're shuddering" The boat told the fire: "You're glowing brightly"
The Voice of Robert Desnos
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
What sort of arrow split the sky and this rock? It's quivering, spreading like a peacock's fan Like the mist around the shaft and knot less feathers Of a comet come to nest at midnight.
Identity of Images (Identité des ...
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
To the right, the sky, to the left, the sea. And before your eyes, the grass and its flowers. A cloud, the road, follows its vertical way Parallel to the plumb line of the horizon,
In the night there are of course the seven wonders of the world and the greatness tragedy and enchantment. Forests collide with legendary creatures hiding in thickets. There is you.
Long Long Ago
Long long ago I went through the castle of leaves Yellowing slowly in the moss And far away barnacles clung desperately to rocks in the sea Your memory better still your tender presence was there too
A frightening stillness will mark that day And the shadow of streetlights and fire-alarms will exhaust the light All things, the quietest and the loudest, will be silent The suckling brats will die
What sort of arrow split the sky and this rock?
It's quivering, spreading like a peacock's fan
Like the mist around the shaft and knot less feathers
Of a comet come to nest at midnight.
How blood surges from the gaping wound,
Lips already silencing murmur and cry.
One solemn finger holds back time, confusing
The witness of the eyes where the deed is written.