‘A young woman, well wrapped up in a fur coat, alights from the train at Davos-Platz station. It is the 12 January 1913 … She is at the end of a long journey with many stopovers, which she made entirely on her own, without a chaperone’ (adapted from Gala: La Muse Redoutable, Dominique Bona, Flammarion 1995)
That young woman was Elena Dimitrievna Diakonova, always referred to by the nickname (which she seems to have given herself), Gala. She had travelled from Moscow to Switzerland where she was to be a patient at the TB sanatorium of Clavadel, high above Davos. There she would meet the young poet Paul Éluard (at that time still known as Eugène Grindel), also a patient. She was 18, he was 17. They fell deeply in love, a passion which in Éluard’s case would last the rest of his life, even after he remarried. As late as 1946 he was writing to her that she was ‘toujours la même, dans le fond, ma Gala de Clavadel’.
After the First World War was declared two years later Paul signed up. Mid-way through the war Gala made a hazardous journey from Moscow, her family home, to his parents’ home in Paris in order to be near him. Wedding Grief covers their courtship, particularly during this period, their subsequent marriage, the birth of their daughter, and the later ménage à trois with Max Ernst which signalled the beginning of the long drawn out break-up of their marriage..
In three parts, the collection draws heavily on Gala’s only surviving letters to Paul and on his own poems, especially their distinctive imagery. It is the first part of a larger project which AC Clarke has been working on for the last three years.
AC Clarke is an award winning poet and translator with a background in teaching and university administration. She has five full collections and a number of pamphlets to her name, and in 2019 won the Second Light Long Poem competition for the second time.
Gala and Paul in the sanatorium
(suggested by Paul Éluard’s Comme Deux Gouttes D’eau)
She disembowels her suitcase in a sterile room
boiled sheets receive her unclean breath
her lungs cast shadows
Companion of her sleeplessness
from here on in
a rinsed spittoon solicits kisses
Her dress sprawls on the bed
languid as fever.
He spits into his mother’s handkerchief
the candour of his breath red pearls
love fountaining among the snows
Companion of his sleeplessness
from here on in
his mother’s needles clack a litany
His notebook on the bedside table
opens its wings.