‘corps Et Biens’ By Robert Desnos

Robert Desnos’ 1930 collection of poetry, Corps et biens, unites themes and styles from several different literary movements, meaning that while some of the poems have the feel of an epic romance, others explore the potential of a more illogical, surrealist style. His writing is an attempt to transcend the realm of the real, and to dissect the mechanics and artistry of poetry in order to find a language that truly expresses the abstractions of the mind.

Born in central Paris in 1900, Desnos was, from a very young age, an active member of the Surrealist movement. Two photographs of him appear in André Breton’s influential work, Nadja, (a review of which can be found HERE), and he was heavily involved with the Surrealists’ experiments with ‘automatic writing’. This term refers to the technique that some artists and writers employ in an attempt to release the natural impressions and images which are normally suppressed by the expectations of social consciousness and relegated to the realm of the subconscious. When trying to produce a piece of automatic writing, the Surrealists would supposedly generate a text without consciously putting words on paper, so allowing their unconscious mind to speak.

The random and spontaneous feel of this type of writing is strongly in evidence in several of the poems within the collection, including ‘Rrose Sélavy’, which refers to a fictional figure central to Surrealist thought, who is also the alter ego of artist Marcel Duchamp. This piece is full of chains of images, through which Desnos plays with linguistic patterns, swapping letters around, creating internal rhymes and undoing the associations that we would typically make between language and images. The result is a poem which encourages you to read aloud, testing out the sound patterns and poetic potential of the French language.

a picture of Robert Desnos, author of 'Corps et biens'