A Moral Lesson

Paul Éluard was born in Saint-Denis, outside Paris. His father was a bookkeeper, whose wife helped out with finances by dressmaking. Sent to a Swiss sanatorium at the age of 16 for tuberculosis, Éluard became interested in poetry. His first major book, Le devoir et i'inquietude, was published in 1917.

In the years following, he was briefly involved with the Dada Movement, but soon—with Louis Aragon and Andre Breton — helped to found Surrealism. In 1942, having broken with the Surrealists in the late 1930s, Éluard joined the Communist Party. During World War II, he served in the French army and in the Communist Resistance. After the war he continued to be active in the Communist movement, traveling extensively to various European countries and Mexico. He was refused a visa to enter the United States. Throughout his life, Éluard perceived poetry as an action capable of arousing awareness in his readers, and recognized it as a powerful force in the struggle of political, sexual, and social change.

Published in 1949, A Moral Lesson explores evil and good as slightly unpredictable forces which at times might be perceived as indistinguishable. Yet Éluard explores the two with a determined effort to transform evil into good. "Through our perseverance, we will render pain and error harmless." This poetic dialogue stands as a magnificent testament to Éluard's poetry and his life.