Char, René (1907–1988) By Bermann, Sandra L.
The French poet René Char exemplified key aspects of modernism. Initially associated with Surrealism, he collaborated with poets such as André Breton and Paul Eluard, and painters such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Nicolas de Stael. Later, during World War II, he led a Resistance unit in the Maquis, winning renown as ‘Capitaine Alexandre’. During this period he continued to write, though he refused to publish until the war was won. In 1946, Char’s wartime journal, Leaves of Hypnos, appeared, soon followed by his major collection, Fury and Mystery. Acclaimed for both, he went on to complete some of his best known work in the 1950s and 1960s while engaging with numerous artists and the musician Pierre Boulez. He wrote widely, from poetry of striking concreteness and metaphysical reach, to political tracts against the introduction of atomic weapons in Provence. There he lived until his death in 1988, meeting with friends such as Albert Camus, Maurice Blanchot, Martin Heidegger, and Paul Veyne.
Char was born in the town of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, near Avignon, in southern France. His early poetry developed a compressed, irreverent style that explored contrasting themes, often of agony and love.