René Char

René Char
Born (1907-06-14)14 June 1907
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France
Died 19 February 1988(1988-02-19) (aged 80)
Paris, France
Occupation Poet
Nationality French
Period 1920–40
Genre Poetry

René Char (14 June 1907 – 19 February 1988) was a 20th-century French poet and member of the French Resistance.


Char was born in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in the Vaucluse department of France, the youngest of four children of Emile Char and Marie-Thérèse Rouget, where his father was mayor and managing director of the Vaucluse plasterworks. He spent his childhood in Névons, the substantial family home completed at his birth, then studied as a boarder at the school of Avignon and subsequently, in 1925, a student at L'École de Commerce de Marseille, where he read Plutarch, François Villon, Racine, the German Romantics, Alfred de Vigny, Gérard de Nerval and Charles Baudelaire. He was tall (1.92 m) and was an active rugby player. After briefly working at Cavaillon, in 1927 he performed his military service in the artillery in Nîmes.

Char's first book, Cloches sur le cœur was published in 1928 as a compilation of poems written between 1922 and 1926. In early 1929, he founded the journal Méridiens with André Cayatte and published three issues. In August, he sent twenty-six copies of his book Arsenal, published in Nîmes, to Paul Éluard, who in the autumn came to visit him at L'Isle sur la Sorgue. In late November, Char moved to Paris, where he met Louis Aragon, André Breton, and René Crevel, and joined the surrealists. His "Profession de foi du sujet" was published in December in the twelfth issue of La Révolution surréaliste. He remained active in the surrealist movement through the early 1930s but distanced himself gradually from the mid-1930s onward. Throughout his career, Char's work appeared in various editions, often with artwork by notable figures, including Kandinsky, Picasso, Braque, Miró, Matisse and Vieira da Silva.

Char joined the French Resistance in 1940, serving under the name of Captain Alexandre, where he commanded the Durance parachute drop zone. He refused to publish anything during the Occupation, but wrote the "Feuillets d'Hypnos" during it (1943–4), prose poems dealing with resistance. These were published in 1946, and were a grand success. During the 1950s and 1960s, despite brief and unhappy experiences in the theater and film, Char reached full maturity as a poet. In the 1960s, he joined the battle against the stationing of atomic weapons in Provence. He died of a heart attack in 1988 in Paris. The Hotel Campredon (also known as the Maison René Char) in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a public collection of his manuscripts, drawings, paintings and objets d'art.

Char was a friend and close associate of Albert Camus,[1] Georges Bataille and Maurice Blanchot among writers, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Victor Brauner among painters. He was to have been in the car involved in the accident that killed both Camus and Michel Gallimard, but there was not enough room, and returned instead that day by train to Paris.

The composer Pierre Boulez wrote three settings of Char's poetry, Le Soleil des eaux, Le visage nuptial, and Le marteau sans maître. A late friendship developed also between Char and Martin Heidegger, who described Char's poetry as "a tour de force into the ineffable" and was repeatedly his guest at La Thor in the Vaucluse.[2]

Better known works

Char's Œuvres complètes were published in the prestigious Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (Gallimard) in 1983 with an introduction by Jean Roudaut. An augmented posthumous re-edition appeared in 1995.


Among the poets to translate his hermetic works into English are William Carlos Williams, Samuel Beckett, Richard Wilbur, James Wright, John Ashbery, W. S. Merwin, Cid Corman, Gustaf Sobin, Kevin Hart (poet) and Paul Auster. Translators into German have included Paul Celan and Peter Handke.Translators into Bulgarian include Georgi Mitzkov and Zlatozar Petrov.

See also


  1. juin_juill:Mise en page 1
  2. Rüdiger Safranski, Ein Meister aus Deutschland. Heidegger und seine Zeit, 1994. Ch. 23.

Selections in English


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