Éluard was born in Saint-Denis, Paris. Influenced by the works of Rimbaud, Lautréamont, and Apollinaire, which he had read during a spell of illness in his youth, he produced his first poems in 1917. Le Devoir et l'inquiétude (1920) expresses the pacifist convictions he developed during his active service in World War I. At the end of the war he became involved with dadaism; with André Breton, Philippe Soupault (1897–1990), and Louis Aragon, he was a founding member of the surrealist movement and one of its finest poets. Surrealist theories, such as the relationship between dreams and reality, are developed in his poetry of this period, notably Capitale de la douleur (1926), one of his best-known collections; L'Amour, la poésie (1929); and La Rose publique (1934). L'Immaculée Conception (1930), written in collaboration with André Breton, is a verbal picture of mental disorder.
His political awareness heightened by events in the Spanish civil war, Éluard broke with the surrealists in 1938. He joined the Communist Party in 1942 and became an active member of the Resistance movement. His collection Poésie et vérité (1942), denouncing the German occupation, established him as one of the greatest Resistance poets; copies of these poems, together with Éluard's later works, Au Rendez-vous allemand (1944) and Dignes de vivre (1944), were secretly distributed among the movement to raise morale.
Éluard remained with the Communist Party at the end of the war, expressing his political convictions in Poèmes politiques (1948). Towards the end of his life, however, his poetry became more lyrical; notable works of this period include Poésie ininterrompue (1946), Tout dire (1951), and Le Phénix (1951).