Ernesto Cardenal

(1925- ) by Alan West-Durán, Northeastern University
Published in Latin American Writers-Supplement I, Edited By Carlos Solé, Klaus Muller-Bergh, Scribners and Sons, NY, 2002, pp. 149-166.

A writer of rich, fruitful, even visionary contradictions, Ernesto Cardenal might seem puzzling to some: a priest whose most famous poem is about Marilyn Monroe; a Marxist and Catholic, who is heretical to both of those traditions. Furthermore, Cardenal is an anti-imperialist Sandinista poet profoundly influenced by U.S. literature, a Christian who has written works exalting the virtues of pre-Columbian culture and mythology, a deeply spiritual, inward being with mystical inclinations whose aesthetic focuses on the world in all its myriad concrete details, which he labels “exteriorist”. He even embodies these contradictions literally: he looks more like a beatnik (with beret and long hair) than a priest, since he never wore a cassock. To Cardenal, he is merely embracing the layered and complex realities of life, a life and work that mirrors the convulsive history of Nicaragua and Central America over the last half century. One of Latin America’s most widely read poets, Cardenal’s work is an amalgam of political commentary, spiritual fervor, and mystical utopianism, written in a vivid montage/cinematic style that is both learned yet accessible. Some of his less favorable critics have claimed that his verses border on propaganda, that the spirituality seems half-baked, and that his utopian yearnings are well-intentioned but naive. But none can deny his pervasive influence on Latin America’s cultural scene of the last forty years. Cardenal’s life seemed destined for poetry by geography, tradition, and family. In an interview he claimed to have begun writing poetry at the age of four. Two of his cousins were major

1

poets, Pablo Antonio Cuadra (1912- ) and José Coronel Urtecho (1906-1994). His grandmother, doña Agustina, was an extremely cultured and avid reader. Though born in Granada, Nicaragua, in 1925, he spent several years of his childhood in León, the birthplace of Rubén Darío (1867-1916), Nicaragua’s most cherished poet, and one of the founders of the modernista movement in Latin America, which lasted from about 1880 to the end of WWI. If that weren’t sufficient, he also witnessed the haunting presence of another Nicaraguan poet, Alfonso Cortés (1893-1969), who “inherited” Darío’s house, lost his mind by 1927, and remained insane for the rest of his life. Cardenal, who later edited and anthologized Cortes’s work (1970), remembers him being chained to a roof beam of the house. Cardenal quotes Cortés often in his monumental Cántico cósmico (Cosmic Canticle, 1989). At age seventeen, Cardenal was sharing his lyrical and surrealist love poems in literary tertulias, and, at that time, according to Cuadra, wrote a a long poem called “The Uninhabited City”. It centered on a love betrayal, and the poet’s reaction (in the poem) was to set Granada on flames. Although the poem made him a known poet, he has refused to publish it. In 1943 Cardenal studied at the UNAM in Mexico and obtained a Licenciatura in Letters writing about Nicaraguan poetry. In that period (1943-1945) he wrote more love poetry (“Carmen y otros poemas”) that is still unpublished. In Mexico he worked with anti-Somoza groups in exile. He returned to Nicaragua and soon after studied at Columbia University (194749), where he was exposed to poets such as Pound, Williams, Olson and others who will have a decisive influence on his work. By 1949, with poems like “Raleigh”, Cardenal’s social commitment is overtly expressed in his verses. Cardenal began writing lyrical love poetry as an adolescent, but his poem “Raleigh” (1949) reveals many features of his future
2

work: a Poundian penchant for mixing genres, a use of documentary (archival, historical, archeological) material, a supple and often humorous use of non-poetic language (statistics, newspaper headlines, advertising slogans), a complex nonindividualistic poetic voice. Drawing on Raleigh’s accounts of the exploration of Guyana, Cardenal crafts a poem that captures both the sense of adventure and wonder in “discovering” unknown lands, as well as some of the hardships and disappoinments, all narrated with a highly musical and often alliterative flair. In another poem from that period, “With Walker in Nicaragua”, Cardenal assumes the voice of a colleague of William Walker, the 19th century filibuster who wanted to conquer Nicaragua and annex it to the South as a slave state. Walker was captured and executed in 1857. But his most important work from the 1950s is “Hora 0” (Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems), written in 1956, but not published until 1960. A poem in four parts, it begins with an almost hallucinatory recollection of Central America under the military dictatorships of Ubico (Guatemala), Carías (Honduras), and, of course, Somoza in Nicaragua. It is a landscape of curfews, spies, troops in the streets, and the cries of prisoners being tortured in police stations laid out in a spare, descriptive tone. Part two focusses on the United Fruit Company and its far-reaching control of the region, arm-twisting local producers to lower their price for bananas. Its corrupt influence even infects the language, a claim that Cardenal makes after quoting the bureaucratese of a company document. The third section tells the story of Augusto César Sandino (1893-1934), his seven-year guerrilla war against U.S. forces (1926-33) and his subsequent ambush and assassination by Somoza. The fourth part is autobiographical, retelling the failed “April Conspiracy” of 1954, in which Cardenal participated. Many of its leaders were captured and tortured and Cardenal had to go into hiding.
3

In the same year that Zero Hour was written, Cardenal suffered two crises with both political and personal dimensions. First, a woman he loved decided to marry a Somoza ambassador, and to add insult to injury Somoza was the godafther of the wedding. Less than four months later, the dictator Somoza was assassinated by Rigoberto López Pérez. Shaken, Cardenal experienced a spiritual transformation, in which he described God revealing himself as a lover to him, and to whom he had surrendered. In 1957 he joined the Trappist monastery in Gethsemany, Kentucky, where he met Thomas Merton (19151968). He resonated to Merton both spiritually, aesthetically, and politically. Although Cardenal strongly denounced all forms of injustice, he was committed to non-violence. Without being ordained, in 1959 he left the monastery for health reasons. With the Trappists he was not allowed to write poetry, but he did make sculptures. A year later, however, he wrote and published Gethsemani, Ky (1960) a books of some thirty haiku-like poems and sketches. His Epigramas (Epigrams) came out in 1961, and though some were written in the 1940s, most were written from 1952 to 1957. Both books were published while he was at a Benedictine monastery in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The epigrams were well-received, and are an intriguing and original blend of love and politics, although its portrayal of women now seems antiquated. The book encompasses some fifty poems ranging from one to fourteen lines, and draws on the epigrammatic tradition in being brief, witty and/or sardonic. No doubt Catullus’s Clodia is echoed by Cardenal’s Claudia. Passion for a loved one (Claudia, Myriam) and passion for politics (specifically antiSomoza politics) form a suggestive echoing. As in Hora O, Cardenal continues to make references to how tyranny distorts language and how important it is for poets to safeguard the vitality

4

which sings praises to the Lord. de Beethoven/ con guitarras y marimbas/ alabadle con tocadiscos/ y cintas magnetofónicas. to ensure that it build a community of justice./ why hast thou cast me off?/ Why go I mourning/because of the oppression of the enemy?” Cardenal’s “Salmo 43” deals with the Jewish people. he published four more books of poems and a meditative essay. 1998.. published in Colombia (1964).. imploring the Lord to wake up and help in order to restore his former prestige. Cardenal ends with “Salmo 150”. sardonic way of stating that the Biblical traditions are still relevant to the present. praise. It is a typical strategy of this book. and/ defend my cause/ against an ungodly people. As a poet. even for someone as prolific as Cardenal. For example. which are songs of lamentation. was a key work that began to establish Cardenal’s reputation throughout Latin America. and also still carry within them a profound prohetic thrust./ from deceitful and unjust men/ deliver me!/ For thou art the God in whom I take refuge.” (Salmos.alabadle con blues y jazz/ y con orquestas sinfónicas/ con los espirituales de los negros/ y la 5ta. actually a “close” paraphrase of the original. Aside from the Gethsemane poems and the Epigramas. O God. Cardenal refashions twenty six hymns from the Old Testament. the 1960s was a productive decade. a wry. In a more jocular tone.Praise him with blues and jazz/ and with symphony orchestras/ with Negro spirituals/ and 5 . Psalm 43 states: “Vindicate me. entreaty and collective deliverance. Vida en el amor (Love) in 1970. Using the biblical tradition.and communicative promise of the word. Salmos (Psalms). supplication. his creations. and asks us to do so to the accompaniment of music: “Alabadle con el violín y la flauta/ y con el saxofón. but recontextualizes it within the Holocaust experience in wrenching and apocalyptic terms. He finishes asking God why he has hid his face.. 77-78) Praise him with violins and flutes/ and with the saxophone..

and trumpets. and political tyranny.” (Transl. For Cardenal. production and science— in a refreshing or new way. nourished and carried out by the poor and the oppressed themselves. An analogous expression occurs with the music: instead of lutes.D. makes the modern reader look at what we take for granted nowadays —technology. guitars and marimbas. not by the paternalism of the liberal state. anticipating liberation theology texts by Gustavo Gutiérrez and Leonardo Boff. galaxies. and light years. harps.) While the original uses the word firmament. as Pound would say. He ends exactly as the original but replaces “everything that breathes” with “every living cell”. transportation. oppression. atoms. Cardenal has violins and saxophones.” (Williams. or ideogrammatic effect. Cardenal expounds a reading of the Bible that addresses issues of poverty. slavery. as well as others. but a call to action. The superimposition.W. 6 . liberation theology was not merely another way of reading the Bible. cymbals. Cardenal mentions interstellar spaces. as it also throws into sharp relief changes in language (specifically. religious and scientific in Psalm 150) and worldviews. As Tamara Williams has stated: “Besides revaling Himself in history. nor by a well-intentioned but authoritarian revolutionary vanguard. and oppression. And that action must be initiated. poverty. 358) God provides the spiritual and ethical underpinning for social change. Cardenal’s juxtaposition of two different historical periods is a recurrent strategy in his poetry. but who orients it in the direction of the establishment of justice and right. In the the Psalms. social injustice. the God of the Bible is a God who not only governs history. He is more than a provident God.A.Beethoven’s 5th/ with guitars and marimbas/ Prasie him with record players/ with tapes. He is a God who actively sides with the poor and the afflicted in their struggle for liberation from misery. as well as record and tape players. pianolas.. 1994 [1990].

Bartolomé de las Casas’s Historia de las Indias (A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies). lived modestly. to preach and spread these authentic Christian values. Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva España (The Conquest of New Spain). Cardenal published Oda a Marilyn Monroe y otros poemas (Marilyn Monroe and Other Poems) in 1965 and El estrecho dudoso (The Doubtful Strait) in 1966. “Apocalipsis” has the poet hearing an angel prophesizing nuclear destruction and doom. says we are at fault for Monroe’s suicide. In El estrecho dudoso (The Doubtful Strait) Cardenal turns to the painful history of the Spanish conquest. He claims Marilyn acted out the script we gave her. Since the community was small and relatively isolated. Cardenal returned to Nicaragua in 1965. The inhabitants. On August 15th he was ordained and soon after began searching for a place in which to establish a community of believers. In a series of twenty five cantos. conversing with God). and it was an absurd script. 7 . The Monroe poem is probably his most famous and anthologized. Our Lady of Solentiname was founded in February 1966. and in the vein of the Psalms (he is praying.With these goals in mind. Though the focus is Central America-Mexico and specifically Nicaragua. planted and also painted. Cardenal feels sorrow (and rage) for Monroe. and is a trenchant criticism of consumerism. advertising and the Hollywood star system. Another poem from the collection. linked to the image of her corpse with her hand on the telephone. the Somoza regime did not initially find its presence threatening. its relevance to the rest of Latin America is unquestionable. to be sure. he ends forcefully imploring God to answer the telephone. Cardenal draws on the histories or chronicles of the period: Columbus’s diary and letters. illustrating what critic Ronald Christ has called “the poetry of useful prophecy”. prayed. on the island of Mancarrón in Lake Nicaragua. Drawing on the clichés of the movie industry. including Cardenal.

mixed in with modern Spanish usage. decapitated and his head was exhibited in a cage. retaining archaic usages and spelling. López de Gómara. his rule was so arbitrary. and with his brother attempted to make himself ruler of all the region from Nicaragua to Peru. There are scenes from the conquest of Guatemala. The book spans from 1492 to 1609. but more than just a tale of perfidy and greed. Las Casas and the bishop of Nicaragua. Los libros del Chilam Balam. in Canto XVIII we see Las Casas plead his case and the plight of the indigenous peoples before the King. Cardenal’s matter of fact tone makes the story even more chilling. his son. but many incidents are written or commented on to draw paralells to more recent historical events. In Panama he was killed by royalists. cruel. we witness Cortés’s (and La Malinche’s) role in the subjugation of Mexico and Central America. and abusive that the citizens of Granada. However. Antonio de Remesal. Hernando. Perhaps one of the most dramatic segments is Canto XXIV. sought revenge. such as William Walker of the nineteenth century and the 8 . even if it is presented like a vast “cinematic mural”. Cardenal often quotes whole passages from the original texts. petitioned the king for his removal ten years later. Stripped of title and possessions in 1548. Cardenal also uses the Mayan book of prophecies. Cuauhtémoc (VIII) and Lempira (XVII). which narrates the events pertaining to Rodrigo de Contreras (and his sons Hernando and Pedro). Nicaragua (VI). We also hear of and from different indigenous leaders: Panquiaco (IV).Francisco Fuentes y Guzman’s Recordación Florida. The work has an epic dimension. Rodrigo had been appointed Governor of Nicaragua by Charles I in 1534. Canto XXIV foreshadows more recent events in Nicaraguan history. as well as the erratic punctuation of the times. and other lesser known documents. murdered Validivieso a year later. Pedro Mártir de Anglería. Antonio Valdivieso.

buttressed in the text by references to the Mayan prophecies of the Chilam Balam. As always.. 160 (Spanish). as well as a prophetic tradition of redemption and hope. as the city sinks into sulphurous oblivion. Here is a segment that quotes or paraphrases the period documents: “ ‘Los agravios de los indios son cotidianos’ (en julio de 45) Escribe en duplicado. They intercept the letters. there is a glimmer 9 ..Somoza dynasty of the twentieth.. an accursed and excommunicated city (because of Archbishop’s Valdivieso’s murder) being “punished” by the Momotombo volcano’s eruption.. Interceptan las cartas. The book ends with an eerie description of Cardenal’s native Granada (XXV). en la misma nao. and because of the eruption. The province is poor. La provincia es pobre. etc.Espionaje. aboard the ship itself. The Doubtful Strait. 161 (English) Cardenal’s use of historical documents allow him to delve into a church history that defended the human rights of indigenous peoples. for Cardenal.Because there is censorship in Nicaragua.Porque hay censura en Nicaragua.” “ ‘Affronts to the Indians occur daily” (in July of 45) He writes in duplicate. etc. the waters of the lake are rising. Por los que han gobernado desasosegando la tierra (pobladores i conquistadores por igual). Because of those who have governed creating unrest in the land (settlers and conquistadors alike)” Cardenal.Spying.. Women become infertile... not for want of riches (he says) but of good government. no por falta de riquezas (dice) sino de buen gobierno. there is a plague. because of censorship. por la censura.. p.

The book begins with “Nele of Kantule” (1870-1944).S. Analogous to revisiting the Biblical tradition of the Psalms. the Pawnees (Texas and the Great Plains). trade with Colombia and a “hands off” policy in their internal affairs. the Aztecs (Mexico). those who have been crucified by history. as a mediator. since God reveals himself and acts in and through history.S. led by Nele. a leader and medicine man of the Kuna. the Maya (Mexico. where Cardenal. In 1925. Cardenal’s interest in the Kuna is manifold. Honduras. subjected to cultural genocide and colonial oppression. medical aid. First. he has visited them on several occasions. Cardenal revisits and rewrites history from the perspective of those silenced. they were granted schools. Guatemala. after both personal and scholarly research. A next step in that rewriting and revisiting will be his Homenaje a los indios americanos (Homage to the American Indians.of hope as he describes one of the walls of the city with the bloodied hand print of Valdivieso. the Iriquois (Northeastern U. or unable to have their accounts written down. Secondly. the Kuna have maintained their traditions. Belize). Central and South America: the Kunas (or Cunas) in Panama and Colombia. they carried out the revolution of Tule. In El estrecho dudoso Cardenal achieved a double purpose. but 10 . Second. and using the U. attempts to celebrate the ethos of pre-Columbian societies of North. 1969). His socially committed Catholicism allowed him to portray the indigenous peoples as the Christs of Latin America.). vanquished. the Incas (Peru). Thirdly. whether in Spanish or in their own languages. they are one of the few indigenous peoples to have risen up against an established Latin American government and acquired a large degree of autonomy to run their own affairs. it became important for Cardenal to re-examine Latin American history since it was written by the victors.

Cardenal never gives in to sentimentality or condescension. poet. colorful and imaginative designs. Usually. In a more lyrical vein. but often mixed in with rueful meditations on the brevity of life. and the non-Eurocentric view they convey is both challenging and engaging. Tony the Tiger. although it also draws on some of the poet’s writings. Cardenal glosses Nezahuacóyotl’s poems. This unabashed transculturation seems consistent with Cardenal’s poetic-ideogrammic strategy of superimposing ancient or traditional texts and worldviews with those of modern technology and society. and philosopher.have also embraced modernity. with their rich imagery of flowers. exemplify what Fernando Ortiz might have called a transculturated view of Latin American history. For example. even bras. JFK. Cardenal’s ideogrammatic techniques in both The Doubtful Strait and Homage to the American Indians. Indigenous. fashion systems of governance. Kuna women weave molas. Ninja Turtles. Cardenal’s fluid historical epistemology incorporates European. a Chichimeca king. which is more biographical. Though the poems in Homage to the American Indians idealize their societies and beliefs. but in the last decades molas depict spaceships. and sacred drums. It is followed by a poem titled “Nezahuacóyotl”. In the poems on North American indigenous peoples Cardenal focusses on their abilities to leave in peace. “Los cantares mexicanos” (“Mexican Songs I & II”) are written from the point of view of Nezahuacóyotl (1402-1472). the designs are abstract or of the flora and fauna of the region. known the world over for their bright. and in some instances make false claims (that the Maya did not use forced labor). the plummage of the quetzal. as well as their struggles against loss of land. in their radically eclectic views and representations of history. culture and lives. and African viewpoints within 11 . as was the case of the Salmos and El estrecho dudoso.

más que música clásica música de jazz La danza alborotada de cosas. a work that merits more study. que es calor. Unicamente la energía del movimiento de las moléculas... it prefigures Cantiga 20 (“Music of the Spheres”) in Canto cósmico... and they dwell on different aspects of love. but usually with its divine connotations... es movimiento... In 1970 Cardenal published Vida en el amor (To Live is to Love). Materia en movimiento en espacio y tiempo Rítmico los corazones y astros.. Día/noche.. with a prologue by Thomas Merton... El ritmo son tiempos iguales repetidos........ Rhythm is equal beats repeated. .. A harmonious universe like a harp.... It is a crucial book......... “The music of the spheres. Un universo armonioso como un arpa.. ... Many of the images or metaphors encountered here turn up later in Cardenal’s poetry... roughly two to five pages each.... in Vida en el amor.... It is a series of poetically written prose meditations... El latir del corazón..... and enables us to understand the religious and mystical side of the author. which dates from 1966.” ........a modern perspective that questions fixed and essentialist notions of truth and objectivity. Y el amor.. when he refers to cosmic rhythms being rhythms of love (24....... 12 .. ........ El calor es movimiento... 187).. In the latter poem Cardenal writes: “La música de las esferas..... La materia es música.. El universo canta y lo oyó Pitágoras..... It could be read as a series of love letters to God.. For example.... únicamente el movimiento de las moléculas individuales...

‘corroborates’ and ‘mediates’ reality. 232. peoples.The beating of the heart. Heat is movement.. 235). Matter is music. And love. Cardenal’s work had matured and exhibited all the traits that would be prevalent in his future writings. Canto Cósmico (231. laden with metaphor. merely the movement of individual molecules. volcanoes. surrealist.. In another section (113) he quotes the passage from the Bible (Luke 9: 24) that would inspire the title for his memoirs. Cosmic Canticle (192. The disorderly dance of things. his mentioning novas and the laws of thermodynamics (23) remind us of the scientific bent of the later poem. selecting. Day/night. and most of his poems are more than just ‘vaguely’ religious. In another segment.. 193. published twenty nine years later. .. trees).[Cardenal’s poems] set out to ‘document’ reality (and so redeem it in a more dialectically visual way: picturing things.. The universe syings and Pythagoras heard it. we can’t help but think of the onomatopoeic descriptions of birds in Canto nacional. But translator and critic Robert Pring-Mill sums it up admirably: “All Cardenal’s poetry ‘debunks’.” Cardenal. clouds.a music closer to jazz than to classical music. 196) Similarly. and somewhat hermetic. The author himself has referred to his aesthetic as “exteriorist”. which is heat. Rhythmic hearts and stars. Merely the energy of molecules in motion.. which he contrasts to a type of poetry that is oneiric. in the light of a clear-cut sociopolitical commitment. Matter in perpetual motion in space and time.. when he describes the sounds. and events. is movement. . . with liberal use of such filmic 13 .. shaping and imposing interpretative patterns on the world. By 1970. the voices of nature (birds. His esthetic principles are clearly ethical.

129). often fragments the lines in unusual ways. Cardenal uses free verse. statistics.” (Calabrese. building a future). use of pictograms.. unsentimental in a Brechtian sense. 14 . 1980. a poet must help this revolution come about. There is no revolution without prophetic song. this montage or superimposition (temporal. words in other languages). the importance of the visual aspect of the poem (extending lines. Cardenal in a poem from the midseventies said: “Revolution/which for me is the same thing as the kingdom of God. accelerated montage. ix-x) As stated before. thus fostering the translation of the poet’s more prophetic visions into sociopolitical fact. and pursuing the ‘redemption of physical reality’ by bringing us ‘back into communication’ with its harshness and beauty. Cardenal does not often use metaphor or hyperbaton (more common in Spanish poetry). p... Rhetorically speaking. linguistic) of details. Cardenal almost always abandons the personal lyric voice of poets. as in VVVVVVV for birds in flight or asterisks to symbolize stars).” (Zero Hour. In terms of the construction of lines. etc. p. or flash frames. scientific jargon.Cardenal’s recording of the present or the past is aimed at helping to shape the future—involving the reader in the poetic process in order to provoke him into full political commitment. rhythms.. realities or images gives the reader an epistemological jolt. obscenities. 1975..‘editing’ techniques as crosscutting.” (Pring-Mill. his “documentary” voice is almost detached. Redemption (of the past) is intertwined with revolution (changing the present. 93) Other critics such as Fraire (1976) and Borgeson (1995) have pointed other stylistic traits in Cardenal’s poetry: focussing on the concrete and suggestive detail (going from the specific to the general).. historical. use of unadorned language or even “anti-poetic” language (headlines. Perhaps this what Merton had in mind when he said: “There is no revolution without poets who are also seers. but often will achieve interesting rhythms through repetition and alliteration.

He begins with “Nuestras vidas son los ríos/ que van a dar a la muerte/ que es la vida” (“Our lives are rivers/ that empty into the sea/ which is life”. “Coplas a la muerte de mi padre” (“Verses on the Death of My Father”). Confucian philosophy.but he often uses similes and synechdoche with great effect (aside from anaphora and alliteration). 215. Trans. Cardenal’s poetry is quite different: not only his “redemption of reality” (or the past) and his prophetic voice in combatting injustice.) It is a startling line. empathy. Cardenal could also be 15 . Italian poetry. Only the reference to Zen koans brings it back from the brink of being flippant.W.D.D. and sense of outrage. -A. His poem “Coplas a la muerte de Merton” (“Verses on the Death of Merton”) reveal many of these attributes. For a reader most of his oeuvre is quite understandable and engaging.. Japanese Noh theatre and Egyptian and Provencal love poetry. given the right amounts of curiosity.W.). but his respect and compassion for the reader. But quickly Cardenal adds the following in the next two lines: “Tu muerte más bien divertida Merton/ (o absurda como un koan?)” (“Your more or less diversion(ary) death Merton/ (or is it absurd like a Koan?)” (215. with the word divertida meaning both a diversion or distraction. Clearly. and though he borrowed many of Pound’s techniques and shared his anticapitalist views. but they are not indispensable. p. Nueva antología poética de Ernesto Cardenal. To read and understand Cardenal you don’t need to be an expert in Chinese ideograms.A. Merton was Cardenal’s mentor and the poem is certainly hearfelt and an homage to a central figure in his life. 1992. Much has been made of Pound’s influence on Cardenal (to which he readily admits). knowing something about pre-Columbian cultures and the history of Latin America will help the reader of El estrecho dudoso or Ovnis de oro: poemas indios. but also amusing. Trans. a reworking of the famous poem by Spanish poet Jorge Manrique.

./ an advance/ on death/ A taste of death in the kisses/ being/ is to be/ for other beings/ we can only be by loving/ But in this life we only love a few moments/ and weakly/ We only love or can be by ceasing to be/ by dying. un anticipo/ de la muerte/ Había en los besos un sabor a muerte/ ser/ es ser/ en otro ser/ sólo somos al amar/ Pero en esta vida sólo amamos unos ratos/ y débilmente/ Sólo amamos o somos al dejar de ser/ al morir.” (“Only in the moments we are not practical/ concentrating on the Useless. equating love (desire beyond desire). death and contemplation further on: “Sólo en los momentos en que no somos prácticos/ concentrados en lo Inútil. which has a chapter on Zen koans. 216-Trans. above all love.referring to Merton’s Mystics and Zen Masters (1961). Further on Cardenal tries to understand death from a Christian and Zen perspective./ La muerte es el acto de la distracción total/ también: Contemplación.W. el amor sobre todo. but also something “different”/ The nuptials of desire/ the coitus of a perfect will is the act/ of death”. también algo “diferente”/ Las bodas del deseo/el coito de la volición perfecta es el acto/ de la muerte. which would be the Love of God.D. saying that we often sleepwalk through life transfixed by desire: “Hemos deseado siempre más allá de lo deseado/ Somos Somozas deseando más y más haciendas/ More More More/ y no sólo más.” (218-219. Gone/ is the world opened to us. Cardenal gives full reign to these thoughts.A.” (“We have always desired beyond what is desired/ We are Somozas desiring more and more haciendas/ More More More/ and not only more. Idos/ se nos abre el mundo. p. But he also mentions the desire beyond what is desired.Translation16 . John of the Cross and his dark night of the soul torn asunder by desire.) Similar to the mystical beginning of his poem “La noche” (“The Night”)./ El amor./ Love./ Death is the act of total distraction/ also: Contemplation. Cardenal evokes St.

cinematic montages. In these quoted segments (and in other works) Cardenal exhibits the standard traits of mysticism: an active and practical yearning for the Absolute.W. movie titles. dinero. p. feces/ and if they dream of a woman it’s in the image/ of an automobile”. then s/he becomes a “spiritual glutton”. advertising. money. heces)/ y si sueñan con una mujer es en la imagen/ de un automóvil”. 222). WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU) at crucial junctures in the poem not only accentuate a point. YANKI GO HOME. 17 . machines. As a counterpoint he refers to consumerist culture as being necrophiliac (“corpses. THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH. Where Cardenal departs from traditional mysticism is in leaving the world as it is. low (and everything in between) culture. sentiments also echoed in Merton’s insightful essay “False Mysticism” (see Merton. the abolition of ego and ambition. *C-I-T-R-O-E-N*. the attainment of a transcendental and spiritual state of consciousness. the remaking of one’s self that enters into a Unitive State with God. John of the Cross. a Somoza of desire.A. “cadáveres. Pound. the Ultimate Reality of Love. to the telegram that informs him of Merton’s death. 466-471).) Cardenal is being both literal and metaphorical about this death. and flash frames. he wants to change the world. If a mystic becomes selfseeking. máquinas. Sartre. from the Bible. pp. but show his rather promiscuous borrowings from high. GONE WITH THE WIND. SIGN OF JONAS. according to St. 1962. Cardenal’s borrowings are done with a breathtaking velocity. in what critics have called his collages. MAKE IT NEW. Cardenal’s use of full caps (NO EXIT. believing that Revolution and spiritual transcendence cosmically join in Teilhard de Chardin’s omega point. political slogans.D. But not all is mystical in “Coplas a la muerte de Merton”. and this tension gives this segment and the poem its verve.

...... Bangkok that’s the appeal stewardess in a kimono. Bangkok es el appeal stewardess en kimono.................................... decía Novalis No es una película de horror de Boris Karloff Y natural... como la caída de las manzanas por la ley que atrae a los astros y a los amantes —No hay accidentes una caída del gran Arbol sos una manzana más Tom” .. Death is an open door to the universe No sign saying NO EXIT and to ourselves (travelling to our selves not to Tokyo............. “the city descended from the heavens is not Atlantic City And the Hereafter is not the American Way of Life Retirement in Florida or like an endless Week-end.. La muerte es una puerta abierta al universo No hay letrero NO EXIT y a nosotros mismos (viajar a nosotros mismos no a Tokio..“la ciudad bajada del cielo que no es Atlantic City— Y el más allá no es un American Way of Life Jubilación en Florida o como un Week-end sin fin.............. the cuisine Continental 18 ......... la cuisine Continental es el appeal de esos anuncios de Japan Air Lines) Una Noche Nupcial......

and constructs his collages by spatially ordering the lines to break off and throw us off balance. as well as skillfully cutting in with parenthesis to interrupt the natural flows of the verses.. scientific. all filtered through his objective and documentary voice. He also uses English. but situates it historically within our modernity (WWII. Invited as juror to the prestigious Casa de las Américas literary contest. The beginning (“the city descended from the heavens”) is also a reference to Merton’s remarkable poem “The Heavenly City” (see merton. came during a three-month trip to Cuba in the summer of 1970. movies).También: yo 19 . 219-220. Here is what he said of this new transformation: “Y era como otra conversión. indigenous religions (Comanches.. Translation A.W. Vietnam. onomatopeia. and repetitions effectively.. Cardenal’s observations were published in 1972. 525-526). Cardenal has offered us a truly complex meditation on death (and life) that draws not only on Christian mystical thought. Koguis). as he claims. Zen. credit-card capitalism). p. Cardenal’s second conversion..D.) Here Cardenal mixes philosophical statements with “anti-poetic” language (advertising. all done poignantly. even irreverence. said Novalis Is not a horror film starring Boris Karloff And natural..” (Nueva antología. 1962. y en América Latina. and yet at the same time the poem radiates with spirituality. pp. practicar la religión era hacer la revolución No puede haber auténtica eucaristía sino en una sociedad sin clases. like apples falling because of the same law that attracts stars and lovers —There are no accidents another fall from the great Tree you are just one more apple Thud. as En Cuba (In Cuba). Había descubierto que actualmente. with humor.is the appeal of those Japan Air Lines ads) A Nuptial Night.

358. Clearly Cardenal’s bucolic years at Solentiname inspired the exhaustive depiction of birds and bird song that suffuse the poem. 324) Although Cardenal was pleased with the general course of the Cuban Revolution (health. is an extraordinary confluence of the poet’s love of nature.había visto en Cuba que el socialismo hacía posible vivir el evangelio en la sociedad” (“And it was like another conversion. culture). and creating societies where human solidarity and spirtuality reigned. The poem is dedicated to the FSLN (Sandinista Front for National Liberation). Stylistically. And increasingly Cardenal began to speak of a convergence of Marxism and Catholicism as belief systems committed to transforming unjust structures. it was his Cuban experience that convinced him that genuine social change in Latin America could only be accomplished by violent means. Catholics were not admitted to the university or to the Communist Party. censorship.. abuses of power.Also. Running 20 . he did notice certain things that disturbed him. Cardenal’s Canto nacional (“Nicaraguan Canto” in Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems). the poem is more lyrical than most of his work. education. and increasingly revolutionary political commitment. There can be no authentic Eucharist except in a classless society. from 1972. religious beliefs.. in Cuba I had seen that socialism made it possible to live the Gospels in society. deep admiration for indigenous cultures. Most importantly for Cardenal. but not exlcusively from his Canto general). p. there was a stifling bureaucracy. In Cuba. (Not to mention Cardenal’s mistaking unity of purpose for a crippling kind of conformity or a Franciscan disdain of wealth for economic ineptitude or mismanagement). p. but it is strongly characterized by his Poundian collages and “non-poetic language” and also a strong Nerudian influence (mostly.” (En Cuba. fascination with history. and in Latin America to practice religion was to make revolution. I had discovered that now. and many shortages of goods.

to the New Man.S. pp. sharks). p. 1996. 20. 17. El huevo de la vida/ es uno. one that will sometimes take a long time to gestate. In a passage that foreshadows his Cántico cósmico (Cosmic Canticle) of 1989.. but more important is his vision that Revolution is a cosmic process. a millones/ de años luz. Desde/ el primer huevo de gas. and then the Marines took over Nicaragua. quickly shifts into the area of political economy with a telling line: “But another country found it needed all these riches./ It is the process. but as actively and successfully resisting U. “La Revolución empezó en las estrellas.S. domination in the figure of Augusto César Sandino. but then quickly burst into history.’s imperial designs are not original (vultures. But Cardenal is not interested in showing Nicaragua just as a victim. From the womb of the oppressed the Revolution will be born. 143-144) Cardenal returns to one of the etymological roots of the word revolution. a new human being). p. al hombre nuevo. Cardenal says that “The Revolution started in the stars.../ Sandino se gloriaba de haber nacido del ‘vientre de los oprimidos’/ (el de una indita de Niquinohomo)/ Del vientre de los oprimidos nacerá la Revolución/ Es el proceso. after an initial evocation of the fauna and flora of the country. Cardenal’s overall strategy works in successfully showing how one country can control another without overt military occupation. & Other Documentary Poems. propelling monumental changes (a new society. From/ the first bubble of gas. The egg of life/ is one.” (Zero Hour. “Pero sucedió que otro país tenía necesidad de estas riquezas”. 140)) Cardenal then concentrates on how the banks. Antología nueva. While some of the images of the U. to the iguana’s egg.over 800 lines. p. 21 .” (Zero Hour. 1996./ Sandino was proud he had been born from the ‘womb of the/ oppressed’/ (that of an Indian girl from Niquinohomo). millions/ of light-years away.” (Antología Nueva. al huevo de iguana. Canto nacional.

Cardenal’s Oráculo sobre Managua (“Oracle Over Managua”. Acahualinca. the Popol Vuh. One key concept. Although Cardenal does not dwell on the details of the earthquake.In typical fashion. the poem focusses on a slum area of Managua. the Miskito indian term for love. Canto nacional reveals a remarkable synthesis of all the dimensions of Cardenal’s work. Joaquín Pasos. a/ mierda y orines rancios/ casas de bolsas de cemento. also in Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems) appeared. which means “all-one-heart” is woven into the poem beautifully. Cardenal quotes the Bible. kupia-kumi. Ruben Darío. The corruption of the Somoza regime was manifest by its clumsy and greedy handling of the aid efforts.” [Antología nueva.. newspaper headlines. the houses of cardboard and 22 . its devastation and aftermath form the backdrop of the poem. Initially. and like El estrecho dudoso. Although unjustly neglected and little studied when compared to some of his major works. but as an overarching metaphor for Nicaragua’s spirit of resistance and the efforts of its artists and activists to truly build a national culture and psychic wholeness. the author establishes paralells between natural and historical events. González de Oviedo and other historical documents or chronicles. ripios/trapos viejos. Leonel Rugama. not only to speak about love (which Cardenal also equates with Revolution). On December 23. 1972.. “Allí empieza Acahualinca. 161] (“Acahualinca begins there. latas de gasolina. Sandino. which is also the site of prehistoric footprints of men and animals fleeing a volcanic eruption. las casas de cartón y lata/ donde desembocan las cloacas./ Calles oliendo a cárcel/ ese olor característicos de las cárceles. 1996. A year later. the Tupamaros political program. Wall Street brokers. Managua was hit by a devastating earthquake that killed thousands and left tens of thousands homeless. It was to be one of the catalyzing events that signalled the decline and eventual downfall of the Somoza family dynasty. p. which lasted forty five years (19341979).

Oracle Over Managua is one of Cardenal’s most militant poems. and another to José Coronel Urtecho. p../ that characteristic jail smell/ of shit and urine/houses of cement bags gasoline cans rubble old rags. 44) Cardenal then begins to work in quotes from poet Leonel Rugama (1949-1969) until he explicitly mentions Rugama.. “Sólo los muertos resucitan/ Otra vez hay otras huellas: no ha terminado la peregrinación/ A medianoche una pobre dio a luz un niño sin techo/ y ésa es la esperanza/ Dios ha dicho: ‘He aquí que hago nuevas todas las cosas’/ y ésa es la reconstrucción”. and Fidel. peppered with quotes of or references to Che Guevara. 47.cans/where the sewers empty. 1996. who said “Revolution is communion with the species” (Zero Hour.known poem “The Earth is a Satellite of the Moon” is quoted by Cardenal in the poem.. Antología nueva. Rugama’s poem also makes reference to generations of the poor that have lived in Acahualinca. 184). p.” (Zero Hour. 1996. the poem ends on a positive note: “Only the dead are reborn.” (Zero Hour. However. p. Despite the devastation (Cardenal describes Managua as one big Acahualinca after the quake). Even in a country with such an extraordinary poetic tradition as Nicaragua’s.la revolución/ es la comunión con la especie”. p. there are two letter-poems that merit mention from that period... Rugama became a kind of poetic-political saint within the Sandinista pantheon. one to Casáldiga. Both poems are 23 .. Rugama’s well. an ex-seminary student turned FSLN guerrilla who held off over 200 National Guardsmen for several hours before he was killed in a shootout. Midway through the poem Cardenal narrates Rugama’s story. 80.. “. /Once more there are more footprints: the pilgrimmage has not eneded. After 1973./Streets that smell of jails. Cardenal would not publish any poetry until 1981. two years after the Sandinistas took power. Antología nueva./ God has said: ‘Behold I make all things anew’/ and that is reconstruction. Mao./ At midnight a poor woman gave birth to a baby in an open field/ and that is hope... 164))..

. one in which the author had unwittingly been implicated. with the goad at your penis.... la traducción portuguesa (no sabía que hubiera) de “Salmos” de Ernesto Cardenal..... Y que a todos los detenidos han dado electrodos por Salmos que muchos tal vez no habían leído.‘los lazos del Abismo’ Hermanos míos y hermanas con la picana en los senos..... “Monsignor: I read that in the sacking by the Military Police In the Prealture of São Félix... they carried off..... and for so many others.. The first ... but it also confronts a serious political situation..... en ‘las redes de la muerte. I have suffered for them..” .. se llevaron.unusual in that they are one of the few instances where Cardenal’s poetry take on a first person voice......... y por tantos otros......”the snares of the Abyss” My brothers and sisters with the goad at your breasts.. in “the nets of death... He sufrido por ellos......... con la picana en el pene.. entre otras cosas.... “Monseñor: Leí que en un saqueo de la Policía Militar en la Prelatura de São Félix.... written to the Brazilian liberation theology priest....... Le diré: esos Salmos aquí también han sido prohibidos y Somoza dijo hace poco en un discurso que erradicaría el ‘oscurantismo’ en Solentiname. And that all those arrested were given electric schocks for Psalms that many had perhaps not read....” 24 ... begins in a very personal tone (rarely does Cardenal refer to himself in the first person). the Portuguese translation (I didn’t know there was one) of Psalms by Ernesto Cardenal.... among other things........ I will tell you: those Psalms have been banned here too and Somoza said a short while ago in a speech that he would eradicate the ‘obscurantism’ of Solentiname..“Epistle to Monsignor Casaldáliga” (1974)..

p.1992.”(Zero Hour. 294) The “Epistle to José Coronel Urtecho”.. and it also contains one of the most succinct and devastating definitions of capitalism: “The price of things goes up/ and the price of people goes down.. It is a heartfelt admission that literature is not innocent. is not quite as effective.. 1992. 95). 286-Spanish. 278-79) For Cardenal..” (Zero Hour. 89. because it’s easier/ and briefer/ and the people understand it better. p.. from 1975. for example. a third of the way into the poem we find a segment that brings together Cardenal’s religious and political commitments into sharp focus: “They’ve told you I talk only about politics now. he prefers the former: “I prefer verse. “Le han dicho que yo ya sólo hablo de política/ No es de política sino de Revolución/ que para mí es lo mismo que reino de Dios. Speaking about poetry and prose.... “Sube el precio de las cosas/ y baja el precio de los hombres”./ It’s not about politics but about Revolution/ which for me is the same thing as the kingdom of God.1992. you know. least of all his own. 84-English) The mention of his work is not mere authorial vanity: Cardenal admits responsibility to the fact that people who had these Psalms were tortured.(Nueva antología poética de Ernesto Cardenal. Nueva antología. the liberating and transformative dimensions of revolution go way beyond politics.”.. Nueva antología. like posters. when Cardenal claims that private enterprise will soon be a thing of the past. It is a poem-letter of encouragement to Casáldiga and the Brazilians in the hope that ultimately they rid themselves of their military dictatorship. one of the founding members of the Sandinistas (the FSLN was founded in 25 . Zero Hour.... p. The poem’s optimism may sound quaint to us nowadays.. but it has some verses which help define Cardenal’s oeuvre and aesthetic. 93.” (Zero Hour. p. Cardenal had met Carlos Fonseca Amador. p. a theme that will be present later in his Cántico cósmico. p. p. However.

Cardenal’s return to Nicaragua was part of the Sandinista revolutionary triumph of July 19. the first of several volumes titled El evangelio según Solentiname (The Gospel According to Solentiname). 63) Many (including himself) thought his revolutionary duties would leave little time for writing. he personally could not commit to violence.1961) in the late 60s. By 1976. 1986. even the most political poems are suffused with wit.” (White. later reworked into the longer Vuelos de Victoria (Flights of Victory.S. lyrical passages of great beauty. and he subsequently went into exile in Costa Rica. and our culture a Revolution. and although he sympathized with their aims. commentary of scripture and paintings appeared. Quickly. While many of them deal with the Sandinista revolution before and after its triumph. containing poetry. still has remarkable poems in it. 1988). and the Galleries of People’s Art. a position he held in until 1988. he became Nicaraguan Minister of Culture. p. which bombed and subsequently destroyed Cardenal’s community in Solentiname. but Cardenal published Tocar el cielo in 1981. A planned Sandinista insurrection in 1977 brought the retaliation of the Somoza government. Vuelos de victoria. 1979. and his lengthy magnum opus Cántico cósmico (Cosmic Canticle. as well as rueful parables on everything from love to revolutionary martyrdom. has made business its culture and culture its business. we’ve made Revolution our culture. In “Reflexiones de un ministro” 26 . Cardenal saw these and other efforts as a democratization of culture. but not carrying arms. on the other hand.S. 1984). As Minister he oversaw massive campaigns to involve Nicaraguans of all walks of life in the cultural life of the country. 1989) only a year after he left office. though not his best book. In 1975. Cardenal was a member of the FSLN.: “The U. and drew a sharp contrast to the U. Los ovnis de oro: poemas indios (Golden UFOs: The Indian Poems. most notably The National Poetry Workshops. In Nicaragua.

But there were 47 who died... revised by A... and he told me he discovered a contraband shipment of parrots set for export to the U. but almost immediately afterwards the moment vanishes and the author-Minister is greeting the ambassador..... 1988...S... there near the border with Honduras..(“Reflections of a Minister”) Cardenal is on the way to an embassy reception when the car headlights light up the eyes of a cat along the road.. eliciting feelings of wanting to be with the cat..UU. “My friend Michel is the military leader in Somoto.. Cardenal’s playful intertextual musing is skillfully crafted. .. which recounts the tale of the birds being taught English and smuggled illegally to the U...Our brother soldiers green like parrots gave the parrots their green mountains.D....Los compas verdes como loras dieron a las loras sus montañas verdes... Eran 186 loras..” .... so that there they would learn to speak English. Pero hubo 47 que murieron..” (Flights of Victory.....) 27 . “Mi amigo Michel es responsable militar en Somoto.. .......... and 47 had already died in their cages.. is done with a light touch.... Trans.... Even a political parable like “Las loras” (“The Parrots”)........S. There were 186 parrots................. 84-85. y me contó que descubrió un contrabando de loras que iban a ser exportadas a EE..... and is both a brief primer on poetry itself as well as a deft commentary on his conflicting loyalties: service to art and revolution....... pp.. The jolt of this image makes him think of Marianne Moore’s cat poem. para que allí aprendieran inglés.. allá por la frontera con Honduras......... y ya habían muerto 47 en sus jaulas....W.

The increased polarization between certain sectors of the Church and adherents of liberation theology came to a head with the Pope’s visit to Nicaragua in 1983. Switzerland. Germany. devoting himself more to his writing. as if scolding him. looks anxiously on. And yet the survivors flew off into the green mountains. while Daniel Ortega (then President). Finland. plus 28 . Spain. His work was also widely translated to German (since 1967). and the imagination. Italy. Portugal. It includes the original sixteen poems. English. a divinis. draws a political paralell between the parrots and Nicaraguans. which he refused to do. freedom.Cardenal uses both the inherent comic nature of parrots as well as their imitative traits. he had been a cultural and political ambassador for Nicaragua all over the world. Iran. Cardenal resigned. behind and to the right of the Pope. financially pressed. and finishes off with the sad fact that 47 of the 186 birds had died. Russian. from being able to administer the Holy Sacraments of the Church. and Iraq. Denmark. Aside from most of the Latin American countries and the Soviet bloc nations. Holland. the flights of victory. French. The Pope requested that Cardenal resign form his post as Minister of Culture. trying to build solidarity with the Sandinista revolution. Cardenal visited France. the Nicaraguan government downgraded the Ministry of Culture to an institute. Sweden. There is an unforgettable photo of Cardenal. in his Sandinista fatigues. Portuguese. In 1988. The Sandinista revolution had many Catholic militants in its ranks. at the Managua airport kneeling in reverence to Pope John Paul II. with a beatific smile on his face. Czech. The prohibition still stands. Still. which returns to the central metaphor of the book. Los ovnis de oro: poemas indios (Golden UFOs: The Indian Poems) is an expansion of his earlier Homenaje a los indios americanos (1969). and in 1985 the Vatican suspended him (and others). Libya. The Pope has a lifted finger. Italian. and at least five other languages.

Quetzalcoátl’s powers were manifold: he is linked to major creation myths closely associated with maize. However. whose name means the Plumed Serpent in náhuatl. Quetzalcoátl was a major divinity. Initially he was portrayed as a deity in the form of an animal (a serpant with feathers).). By far the longest poem in the collection.D. water. southern México. being both an earth and sky God (in Mayan serpent and sky are the same 29 . a historical figure named Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoátl. To confuse matters there was a King of Tollan (now Tula). the Zapotecs in Monte Alban (100 B. wind.-200 B. Guatemala. Cardenal loved the image and decided. but by the Late Classic period (600-900 A. Cardenal radically historicizes Quetzalcoátl. with a conical cap.D. making the new version twice as long. true to the Kunas’ “postmodern traditionalism”.D. “Quetzalcoátl” and “The Secret of Macchu Picchu”. In their mythologies of the past. wind jewelry (a conch) and other shell jewelry.)..C. among others. to use it as the title of the new version.fourteen new poems.D. The newer poems include the title poem (“Golden UFOs”).D.). a long poem.). they spoke of a mythological hero or demigod coming down from the sky on a golden cloud. the Toltecs in Tula (950-1250 A.900 A. cultural and historical figure of the preColumbian area that today stretches from Mexico to Nicaragua. Quetzalcoátl was originally published separately in 1985. the most important religious. the Mixtecs and Aztecs (1300-1519 A. in more recent times they claim the same hero descended golden flying saucer or UFO. Belize..D. “Los ovnis de oro” (“Golden UFOs”) derives from conversations Cardenal had with the Kunas. He was a key figure for the Olmecs (1100 B. and Honduras.) he began to assume human forms.850 A.C.C.) and for all the Mayan cities and peoples in Yucatán. the city of Teotihuacán (200 A. a handsomely illustrated version honoring the author’s sixtieth birthday.

and that earlier in the poem he links Quetzalcoátl to Christ. but not the sacrifice of others. 1982) but the term subversive. with obvious positive connotations for the revolutionary Cardenal. Cardenal suggests that myth is not atemporal or ahistorical and that it is risky to see it as such. cultural. It is interesting to note that Cardenal sees Quetzalcoátl as someone who believes in selfsacrifice. Cardenal’s Cántico cósmico (Cosmic Canticle) was published in 1989. from the beginning Cardenal asks which Quetzalcoátl are we going to speak of? The deity of wind. as part of their sacrificial ideology. a warrior god. or political perspective. whether from an anthropological.” Not only is Cardenal revealing his sources (David Carrasco’s Quetzalcoátl and the Irony of Empire. He describes how Quetzalcoátl becomes a useful. The poem ends with: “Carrasco calls him subversive. ever-changing dimensions of the diety.word). and philosophy. and his regret will become interwoven with the crushing blow of Cortes’s imperial conquest. the arts. Probably the longest poem written in 20th century Latin American letters (David Huerta’s Incurable comes 30 . also points to a fact: the figure of Quetzalcóatl changed over time and in different Mesoamerican cities. and the arts? The one who set himself on fire and reappeared as the morning star (Venus)? The one who vanished but vowed to return during the epoch of the Fifth Sun? The priest-ruler of Cholula who taught metallurgy and social ethics? The one who was rejected by the sorcerers because he rejected human sacrifice? In the final part of the poem Cardenal addresses Quetzalcoátl’s displacement by Huitzilopochtli. Given this complex. under the Aztec empire (1325). which Cardenal calls “the historicity of myth”. Also a scribe and a sage. he is linked to writing. Moctezuma pays for this abandonment of the Quetzalcoátl legacy. manipulative tool by the Aztec ruling classes. Mexico and Mesoamerica are still recovering from that oversight. creation.

philosophically speaking. Like his 31 . science and poetry. Despite the modern scientific terminology (quasars. Despite the similarities with Lucretius (his interest in the material world). a baroque masterpiece that combines both the theology and science of her times and Nezahuacóyotl (1402-1472). Cardenal constructs a vast canvas that begins with the Big Bang theory of the universe (Cantiga 1). Lucretius was loathe to credit any godly or divine presence in the universe. ruler. from the Kuna in Panama to the Hopi in the U. and understandably has been compared to Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura as well as Dante’s Divina Commedia. poet and philosopher of Texcoco.) the feel of Cardenal’s poem is more of a pre-Socratic philosopher like Democritus. Cardenal draws on the cosmologies and myths of the indigenous populations of the Americas.000 lines. moves on to the word in Cantiga 2 and finishes with a cosmic convergence reminiscent of Teilhard de Chardin’s Point Omega some five hundred seventy pages later. But his largest debt is with Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). and to whom Cardenal dedicated a poem in his Homenaje a los indios americanos twenty years before. priest. the French paleoanthropologist. and feels the divine breath in all living creatures. subatomic particles. or of God-intoxicated mathematician-philosophers like Leibniz and Spinoza. Anaxagoras. sees a Pythagorean miracle in the cosmic dance of the music of the spheres. Furthermore.close). Cántico cósmico is a philosophical poem that attempts to unite religion. Cardenal is not a materialist. supernovas. Cardenal finds God in neutrons. But critics have perhaps overlooked a Latin American precedent: Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’ Primero sueño. asteroids. almost twice as long as Goethe’s Faust but less than Alonso de Ercilla’s 16th century epic La Araucana (1569-89). Divided into 43 cantigas. etc. One could add Goethe’s Faust in the spirit of Santayana’s Three Philosophical Poets. or Heraclitus. and philosopher. it weighs in at over 19.S.

Critic Steven F. This noosphere would eventually become a planetary Hyperpersonal Consciousness. scientific spirits unite in a cosmic dance of celebration and insurrection. Teilhard de Chardin also spoke of a new thinking layer (“noosphere”).Pound’s botched magnum opus. redemption. Cardenal believes in resurrection. In Cántico cósmico animal. “Flights of Victory”. a Point Omega of convergent integration. 165) Clearly the poem could have benefitted from editing (so would many of Cardenal’s longer poems published over his career). White has suggested that Canto cósmico is “amorphous. the Cantos. and details the economic despoiling of Nicaragua.. torture. ending with the names of the martyred who died in combat.predecessor. capitalist wastefulness. and revolution. as in most of his work. Cantiga 18.. an integration made possible by love. But ultimately. 1997. focusses on consumerism. and ecological devastation of the planet. and should be compared to “. from subatomic particles to human beings. and squalor. Also similar is their belief in a spiritual energy that all elements in the cosmos possess. Cardenal aims to show that evolution and Christianity are not antithetical. or the spirit of Christ in nature. military oppression. Cantiga 21 is called “Robber Barons”. but the comparison with Pound is only 32 . All of this is evident throughout Canto cósmico and in the last Cantiga (43.” (White. poorly edited and shares none of the precision and refinement of Dante’s poem” [The Divine Comedy]. also called “Omega”) Cardenal makes several references to Chardin and his ideas. “En el cielo hay cuevas de ladrones” (“In the Heavens There Are Dens of Thieves”). Within his evolutionary framework. human. Cantiga 32. distinct but superimposed on the biosphere. But not all is cosmic wonder in the poem. Cantiga 24 (“A Latin American Documentary”) is a litany of imperial chicanery. religious. narrates the difficult struggle by the FSLN to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship.

structurally tighter. betraying the people by hijacking the Revolution. and he equally denounced a lack of ethical standards. and the theft of public funds. and it’s a defeat they deserve. Despite being an ex-Minister. Cardenal was still politically active.” (Interview with Milvian Jerez. After the Sandinistas were voted out of power in 1990. March 17. but is not a member of the Frente Sandinista. corruption. Radio La Primerísima. Cardenal’s Cántico cósmico. 200. a book of poems. They are committing suicide. not to say much more accessible and easier to comprehend. was published in Spain. is much more coherent thematically. interest in Nicaragua and in Cardenal seemed to have vanished although translations of his work continued to appear (see bibliography in English). ideologically more focussed and philosophically more cogent than Pound’s. when asked about the Sandinistas in the next elections (2002). even if it requires considerable physical and intellectual stamina of the reader. which he had ceded to the FSLN. White also suggests that incorporating many of the poems (all but three) from Vuelos de Victoria into Cántico cósmico marred the longer and more ambitious text. In a recent radio interview.superficially correct. but I think they are headed for defeat with the candidate they are running [Daniel Ortega]. “verticalist” and authoritarian manner. Cardenal ardently defends their inclusion in Canto cósmico as part of his views on the convergence of Revolution and mysticism. “No puedo 33 . There is some truth to this observation. Managua. but overall they make up less than ten percent of Cántico cósmico. as well as revoke the rights and royalties to his works. Cardenal still considers himself a revolutionary and a Sandinista. In 1993. despite its operatic sprawl. but internal divisions within the FSLN prompted him to resign (1994). they’ve brought it on themselves. In his resignation letter Cardenal also mentioned that the FSLN was being run in a despotic. Telescopio en la noche. selling their ideals and betraying the dead. he replied: “I can’t predict.

then in Spain. the personal. 110-163). often directed at himself. Cardenal moves on to his Mexico and New York years.”). y es una derrota merecida. he will save it. 1993. which has intrigued many. it covers his life unsparingly. The first volume of his memoirs. titled Del monasterio al mundo: correspondencia entre Ernesto Cardenal y Thomas Merton (19591968). For whoever would save his life will lose it. Cardenal’s autobiography is concerned with the choices and sacrifices he made to become a priest. let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. This first volume. was published in 1999. and his friendship with poet Ernesto Mejía Sánchez. creo que van a la derrota con el candidato con el que van. Vida perdida. see Merton. without any trace of nostalgia. An early section (pp. (For only Merton’s letters to Cardenal. politcal spiritual crisis that took him to Gethsemane. Cardenal has devoted more and more time to his scultpures. 34 . traicionando al pueblo con el secuestro de la Revolución y la venta de los ideales y la traición a los muertos. Barral Edition) talks about his youthful loves and gives useful information on the some of the romantic circumstances that inspired his Epigramas (Epigrams) or much later segments of his Cántico cósmico (Cosmic Canticle). and whoever loses his life for my sake. In 1996 new anthologies of his poety were released and in 1998 his correspondence with Thomas Merton was published in Chile. Later. first in Nicaragua. which runs to over 450 pages.” Undoubtedly. pp. The English title would be “A Lost Life”. Brancusian touch and is now writing a three-volume memoir of his life. and with considerable humor. begins with his first conversion in 1956 to become a Trappist monk. which spanned from 1959 to 1968. but Cardenal explains by quoting Luke (9: 23-24): “If any man would come after me. 21-46.predecir. Written with an almost disarming simplicity. Ellos se están suicidando. which have a charming. se la han buscado.

Love. will be. as well as the growing relationship with Thomas Merton.363). which included undergoing psychoanalysis (pp. 219-306) of his thoughts and writings during that period.W. Cardenal returns to his childhood and early adolescence in Granada and León (pp. que esta vida.] (“Espero en vos. 307. I feel quite part of a society that brings the future nearer and that wants to completely bring to fruition this progress as quickly as possible. roughly the first half of his life. Vida perdida ends with the following: “I place my hope in you. and is harshly critical of neoliberal economic policies in Latin America. a life gained. He recalls his period in Cuernavaca. Cardenal recently stated his position: “The artist has always been perfectly integrated into society. that my life. Cardenal still closely follows and comments on national and international affairs. sea después de todo una vida ganada. after all. in more than one way lost. But not the society of his times. Though aware of the shortcomings of state commandeered.against the senility of established 35 . one-party socialist regimes. but of the future. and in the political realm as a pacifist. anarchist Christian and follower of Gandhi.”(457) The first volume of Cardenal’s memoirs covers from 1925 to approximately 1961. the sage. Amor.” [Transl. 119-219) narrating with immense detail his daily life at Gethsemane. and the saint are members of a future society that exist on the planet as a seed. 363-457). en más de un sentido perdida. as the priest I try to be.Cardenal spends almost a quarter of the book (pp. Jumping back in time. and independent of geopolitical divisions. It is followed by a section (pp.A. The artist.. the poet. many almost aphoristic in their brevity. As a poet —to the degree that I am one—. The book’s popularity prompted a second printing of the Nicaraguan edition in the year 2000.. Mexico with the Benectidine order. No longer a political militant in the strict sense. Cardenal is still deeply committed to a mystical utopianism and Marxism.D. though scattered here and there in individuals or in groups.

. sino en la del futuro. y en lo político como pacifista.A. racism.) Even though most Latin American countries have rid themselves of military dictatorships that were all too frequent in the seventies and eighties. a need for reflection. Cardenal’s critiques of poverty. Whether expressed in cosmic-philosophical works of epic length. illiteracy. aunque dispersa —con independencia de las particiones de la geografía política— aquí y allá en individuos y pequeños grupos.W.. Transl.” [“El artista ha estado siempre perfectamente integrado en la sociedad.powers.” (as quoted in Sollee. or in shorter collage-like satirical sketches. 1998. social injustice. Cardenal now draws more and more on the social and ethical dimensions of the Bible and other religious sources. el poeta. pp. El artista. Perhaps chastened by political disillusionment.. me siento bien integrado en esa sociedad que acerca el futuro y quiere llevar a su plenitud el proceso de progreso tan rápidamente como sea posible. Como poeta —en la medida que lo soy— como el sacerdote que trato de ser. and a call to action that is still refreshing.D. Pero no en la de su tiempo. el sabio y el santo son miembros de la sociedad del futuro que existe ya en el planeta como una semilla.contra los poderes caducos. insightful. anarquista cristiano y seguidor de Gandhi. 10-11. Ernesto Cardenal —Bibliography— —In Spanish— 36 . Salmos. and compassionate. Cardenal’s poetry elicits an intensity of feeling. and inadequate health still resonate among many Latin Americans.

El estrecho dudoso. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Lohlé. Editorial Trotta. Mayapán. Madrid: España. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Lohlé. Oración por Marilyn Monroe y otros poemas. 1992 [1978]. 1968. Telescopio en la noche oscura.. 1998 [1964]. Managua: Ediciones Nueva Nicaragua. Madrid: Editorial Trotta. 1960. Colombia: La Tertulia. 1961. Mexico City: Siglo XXI. Gethsemani. El evangelio en Solentiname. Cántico cósmico. (clandestine) Oráculo sobre Managua. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Lohlé. Nueva antología poética de Ernesto Cardenal. Ky. Managua: Colección COUN. Madrid: Ediciones Visor. Sígueme. 8va. edición. —Other Writings (Prose. Mexico City: Ecuador. Madrid: España. 2 vols. Antología nueva. Vuelos de victoria. 1972. Managua: Lóguez. Salmos. León: Universidad Autonóma de Nicaragua. 1993. 1981. Nostalgia del futuro. 1989. Universidad de Antioquía. Quetzalcoátl. Homenaje a los indios americanos. 1964. Editorial Trotta. 1985. 1960. 1996. En Cuba. 1984. 37 . Mexico City: UNAM. Epigramas.—Poetry— Hora O. Salamanca: Ed. Revista de Poesía Universal. Madrid: Cultura Hispánica. Essay. 1982. Los ovnis de oro (poemas indios). Salmos. 1966. 1969. 1976-1978. 1972. Medellín. Managua: Ediciones de Librería Cardenal. Mexico City: Siglo XXI. 1973. Canto nacional. Autobiography)— Vida en el amor. Managua: Ediciones Nueva Nicaragua. Mexico City: Revista Mexicana de Literatura. Tocar el cielo. 1970. 1965. Medellín: Colombia. Managua: Ediciones Nueva Nicaragua. 1988.

1978. Managua: Ministerio de Cultura. CT: Wesleyan University Press. Vida perdida.La paz mundial y la Revolución de Nicaragua. Indiannoplis: Indiana Universty Press. Flights of Victory. New York: New Directions 1977. (Autobiography). Barcelona: Seix Barral. 1988. Translated by J. Epigrams. Translated by John Lyons. Indiannoplis: Indiana University Press. CT: Curbstone Press. 1975. Santiago. Translated by John Lyons. Willimantic. Del monasterio al mundo: correspondencia entre Ernesto Cardenal y Thomas Merton (1959-1968). London: Search Press. 1982. With Walker and other Early Poems (1949-1954). Chile: Ed. Walsh. The Doubtful Straight. 38 .Cohen. La democratización de la cultura. Trans. 1998.-Borgeson. Translated by Marc Zimmerman and others. 1984. —In English Translation— —Poetry— Homage to the American Indians. New York: New Directions. 1981. Translated by Carlos and Monique Altschul. 1973. Translated by K. PringMill. Apocalypse and Other Poems. CT: Curbstone Press. Anton. 1993. Golden UFOs. 1980. Willimantic. 1999. Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems. Translated by Robert Pring-Mill. Edited by Santiago DaydíTolson. Managua: Ministerio de Cultura. Translated by Carlos and Monique Altschul. Marilyn Monroe and Other Poems. 1992. 1995. Translated by Robert Pring-Mill and Donald Walsh.H. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. New York: Lodestar Press. Middletown. Cohen. Cosmic Canticle. Cuarto Propio.

pp. 1979. Also as Love. “Bibliografía de y sobre Ernesto Cardenal”.Donald Walsh. Jonathan “From Nicaragua With Love”. Coronel Urtecho. —Critical Bibliography— Borgeson. #108-109 (July-December). Translated by Donald Walsh. Jr. Pablo Antonio “Sobre Ernesto Cardenal”. José “Carta a propósito del Estrecho Dudoso” in Ernesto Cardenal El estrecho dudoso. Revista 39 . Caracas: Monte Avila. 1995. Paul W. With Walker and other Early Poems (19491954). Paul W. 1978-1982.—Other Writings (Prose. 1984. London: Search Press. Santiago “Ernesto Cardenal: resonancias e ideología en el discurso lírico hispanoamericano”. 9-38. Papeles de Sons Armadans. 1971.. #187. 641-650. Jr. London: Tamesis. The Gospel in Solentiname. Translated by Dinah Livingstone. 1972. Paul W. 875-882.. pp. pp. Borgeson. Calabrese. Trans. introduction to Ernesto Cardenal. Jr. In Cuba. pp. Borgeson. Tomo I. Buenos Aires: García Cambeiro. Essay)— To Live is to Love. Elisa (ed. CT: Wesleyan University Press. 3-17. New York: Herder. pp. 1974. Vida en el amor. 1985. Nueva Nicaragua. Middletown. Cuadra.. New York: Orbis Books.) Ernesto Cardenal: poeta de la liberación latinoamericana. 1975. Revista Iberoamericana. 1974.. New York: New Directions. 1984. Daydí-Tolson. Cohen. 5-33. Managua: Ed. “Ernesto Cardenal” entry in Diccionario Enciclopédico de las Letras de América Latina. Translated by Kurt Reinhardt. Hacia el hombre nuevo: poesía y pensamiento de Ernesto Cardenal.

29-48. Robert “The Redemption of Reality through Documentary Poetry” in Ernesto Cardenal Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems. Merton. 40 . pp. Thomas The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers. 1984.Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos. New York: Farrar. Elías. Pring-Mill. #9: 1. Fall 1976. 17-30. José Miguel “Ernesto Cardenal: un místico comprometido”. Lohlé. Dorfman. Thomas “Prólogo” in Ernesto Cardenal. Straus Giroux. New York: Harcourt. #53. 36-42. Casa de las Américas. Gibbons. pp. pp. pp. Fraire. NH: Ediciones del Norte. Dorfman. pp. Merton. New York: New Directions. 1969. Brace & World. María Angeles La poesía cósmica de Ernesto Cardenal. tiempo de lucha: la unidad en los Epigramas de Ernesto Cardenal” in Hacia la liberación del lector latinoamericano. Reginald “Political Poetry and the Example of Ernesto Cardenal”. McDowell. Huelva. Review. #18. España: Diputación de Huelva. Thomas A Thomas Merton Reader. Oviedo. #157. Ariel “Tiempo de amor. pp. 1993. pp. Spring 1987. Critical Inquiry. 193-223. ix-xxi. Eduardo “El estrecho dudoso: del discurso histórico a la épica contemporánea”. Revista Iberoamericana. Buenos Aires: Ediciones de la Flor. 1991. 648671. Hanover. 219-286. Buenos Aires: Ed. 1962. #13:3. Toronto. 923-931. 1984. Merton. 1998. Isabel “Pound and Cardenal”. Edited by Thomas P. pp. Ariel “Ernesto Cardenal: ¡Todo el poder a Diosproletario!” in Ensayos quemados en Chile. 1970. pp. Pastor Alonso. 9-22. 1980. Vida en el amor. 1974.

pp. Tamara R. ix-xli. (Fall 1990). pp. pp. White. introduction to Flights of Victory. 1994. MI: Gale Research. (Original article in Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos.Pring-Mill. Jorge H. “Cardenal’s Poetic Style: Cinematic Paralells”. “Cardenal’s ‘Exteriorismo’: The Ideology Underlying the Esthetic”. Marc “Ernesto Cardenal After the Revolution”. Valdés. Center for Latin American Studies. pp. #10. Mid-Hudson Language Studies. Toronto. Indianapolis. Madrid: Editorial Trotta. Chicago: Fitzroy Dean Publications. Wiilimantic. 9-13. 1995. Indianapolis. 63-70.xxxii.-June 1982). 357-361. Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos. CT: Curbstone Press. Solle. Smith. pp. “Ernesto Cardenal” in Verity Smith (ed.) Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. quotes from different interviews). Toronto. White. 5974 (on Cardenal. 111-121). Dorothee “Prólogo” in Ernesto Cardenal Salmos. pp. pp. (Jan. 164-166. vii. #118-119. 1979. Williams. #11: 1. 1986. IN. New York: Lumen Books. pp. pp. Zimmerman. Tamara R. 1992. Detroit. “Introduction” in Ernesto Cardenal The Doubtful Straight/ El estrecho dudoso. 1987. 1997. “Ernesto Cardenal’s ‘El estrecho dudoso’: Reading/Re-writing History” (excerpt) in Hispanic Literary Criticism. IN. Jorge H. 41 . Culture and Politics in Nicaragua: Testimonies of Poets and Writers. Salmon. Tucson: Arizona State University. Williams. 217-240. 1998. vii-xxxi. Russell “Introduction” in Ernesto Cardenal Golden UFOs: The Indian Poems. Janet L. 1988. #15: 1. 119-129. Valdés. Robert “Acciones paralelas y montaje acelerado en el segundo episodio de Hora O” in Revista Iberoamericana. pp. (Autumn 1986). Steven F. Steven F. An Annotated Bibliography of and About Ernesto Cardenal. pp.

42 .

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.