The traveler who crossed Les Halles at summer’s end
Walked on tiptoe
Despair rolled its great handsome lilies across the sky
And in her handbag was my dream that flask of salts
That only God’s godmother had breathed
Torpors unfurled like mist
At the Chien qui Fume
Where pro and con had just entered
They could hardly see the young woman and then only at an angle
Was I dealing with the ambassadress of saltpeter
Or with the white curve on black background we call thought
The Innocents’ Ball was in full swing
The Chinese lanterns slowly caught fire in chestnut trees
The shadowless lady knelt on the Pont-au-Change
On Rue Gît-le-Coeur the stamps had changed
The night’s promises had been kept at last
The carrier pigeons and emergency kisses
Merged with the beautiful stranger’s breasts
Jutting beneath the crepe of perfect meanings
A farm prospered in the heart of Paris
And its windows looked out on the Milky Way
But no one lived there yet because of the guests
Guests who are known to be more faithful than ghosts
Some like that woman appear to be swimming
And a bit of their substance becomes part of love
She internalizes them
I am the pawn of no sensual power
And yet the cricket singing in the ashen hair
One evening near the statue of Etienne Marcel
Gave me a knowing look
Andre Breton it said go on
From L’Amour Fou (Mad Love) 1937.
The woman in “Sunflower” is Jacqueline Lamba, an artist who was Breton’s second wife.
The Surrelalists’ political platform, which they attempted to ally with the French Communist Party, was threefold:
2. Mad love
3. Freedom the color of man
The Communists were not buying it.
Breton was barely allowed to speak at the meeting of the Communist Writers for the Defense of Culture meeting in 1935. He was initially banned, but after Rene Crevel’s suicide, they reluctantly allowed him to speak, but only at midnight after most had left.
A year later, Breton broke decisively with Stalin and aligned himself with the Trotskyites. In 1938, he and Jacqueline spent four months with Trotsky, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico. Trotsky and Breton co-wrote Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art. Two years later, Trotsky was dead, an icepick in his skull.
The War was beginning. By 1941, the Bretons were fleeing internal exile in Marseilles on a ship for New York City, a place he hated. He would have hated anywhere that kept him away from Paris. Within a year, Jacqueline left him, and he fell into depression. Two years later, he met another young woman in a New York cafe.
After the war, he was back in Paris with a new wife, but it was not the old Paris. Many of the old Surrealists had joined a French Communist Party which wanted no part of Breton. Others remained in exile. Still others were in asylums or graves.
The war had taken its toll on everything. Even Breton’s poetry was dying. For the next 20 years, he wrote little while Existentialism, Pop Art and the New Novel supplanted Surrealism. By Fall 1966, he was dead.
He died too soon. Had he lived two more years, he would have seen French students shouting his lines in the streets. Even later, Surrealism had infiltrated the entire modern visual realm.
Breton is the founder of Surrealism, a man who frequently dresses entirely in green, smokes a green pipe, drinks a green liqueur and has a sound of knowledge of Freudian psychology.
Time Magazine, reporting on the Surrealist Exhibition at MOMA in New York, 1936.