(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Leading Latin American poet Ernesto Cardenal is also an ordained Roman Catholic priest and an avowed Christian-Marxist. After his ordination in 1965, he moved to the island of Mancarrón on Lake Nicaragua, where he founded a Christian-Marxist commune called Our Lady of Solentiname. There he began preaching his revolutionary form of Pauline Christianity, which aims to cultivate a distinctly Christian sociopolitical awareness. In this way, Our Lady of Solentiname is linked to the larger Latin American Christian movement, concietización, to which Cardenal contributes his advocacy of Christian liberation theology and social justice. Both ideas pervade Apocalypse, and Other Poems, a selection of English translations from Cardenal’s major short poems from the late 1940’s to 1973.

The poetry in Apocalypse, and Other Poems enacts many of Cardenal’s major Christian themes, including resurrection, renunciation, love, and justice. Certainly his interpretations of such themes are informed by his Marxist politics, but one must remember that the practice of Marxism and the practice of Christianity are equivalent for Cardenal. Thus, his remonstrations against political corruption and murder, for example, are exegetic articulations of the sins of humankind, and the poems ultimately transmit to the reader a sense of Cardenal’s belief in God’s love as transformational and transcendent. In other words, just as Jesus is able to heal because he loves, so might these poems aspire to similar achievement.

Likewise, if one accepts the notion from Augustinian Christianity of sin as a form of absence, then Apocalypse, and Other Poems is a profoundly Roman Catholic book. More specifically, Cardenal repeatedly explores the catastrophic consequences of God’s absence from the lives of people, and nowhere is this more clear than in the book’s title poem, “Apocalypse,” a free-verse, bleak, and violent depiction of nuclear winter as the consequence of humankind’s failure to live through God’s love and teachings. However, with typical resilience of spirit, Cardenal concludes the poem on a magisterial note by prophesying humanity’s replacement: a gloriously new, spiritually unified being made of humans but definitively improved.

Like “Apocalypse,” Cardenal’s epigrams...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cardenal, Ernesto. Cosmic Canticle. Translated by John Lyons. Willimantic, Conn.: Curbstone Press, 1993. A long poem (almost 500 pages) exploring the intersections of Christianity and science.

Cardenal, Ernesto. Love: A Glimpse of Eternity. Translated by Dinah Livingston. Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2006. Prose from Cardenal’s religiously formative years of study to become a Trappist monk; apolitical both in content and by monastic order.

Elias, Edward. “Prophecy of Liberation: The Poetry of Ernesto Cardenal.” In Poetic Prophecy in Western Literature, edited by Jan Wojcik and Raymond-Jean Frontain. London: Associated University Presses, 1984. Good introduction to scholarship on Cardenal’s fusion of religion with poetics.

Field, Les W. “Constructing Local Identities in a Revolutionary Nation: The Cultural Politics of the Artisan Class in Nicaragua.” American Ethnologist 22, no. 4 (November, 1995): 786-806. Scholarly, succinct introduction to the sociopolitical landscape of Cardenal’s work.

Merton, Thomas. Courage for Truth: The Letters of Thomas Merton to Writers. Edited by Christine M. Bochen. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993. Includes letters to Cardenal from his Trappist novice-master; their friendship and correspondence spanned more than a decade and inspired Cardenal to create Our Lady of Solentiname.