Ernesto Cardenal Biography


(World Poets and Poetry)

Ernesto Cardenal Martínez was born in 1925 in Granada, Nicaragua. He studied at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. After graduating in 1947, he moved to the United States to study North American literature at Columbia University in New York from 1948 to 1949.

After traveling for a year throughout Europe, Cardenal returned to Nicaragua. He translated and published North American poetry and anonymously wrote political poems against the dictatorship of Somoza. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda published works by the then-unknown Cardenal in La Gaceta de Chile. While in Nicaragua, Cardenal managed a bookstore that promoted national writers and published El hilo azul, a poetry journal.

In 1954, Cardenal participated in an armed assault against the Somoza regime known as the April Rebellion and continued to write anonymous political poems. Three years later, he drastically changed directions by entering the monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where he met Thomas Merton, his spiritual mentor and lifelong friend. Poor health forced Cardenal to transfer to the Benedictine monastery in Cuernavaca, Mexico. There, he wrote his poetry collection Gethsemani, Ky. and the meditations Abide in Love. He continued his theological studies at the seminary of La Ceja in Colombia. While at the seminary, he wrote poems later collected and translated as Homage to the American Indians. He was ordained a...

(The entire section is 477 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ernesto Cardenal (kahr-day-NAHL) is considered by many to be one of the most significant poets of Central America. Cardenal is a Catholic priest, a Nicaraguan revolutionary, a sculptor, and his country’s former minister of culture. The author of numerous books and editor of poetry anthologies, Cardenal has seen only a handful of his works translated into English.

Following his high school studies at the Colegio Centroaméricana de los Jesuitas in Granada, Cardenal moved to Mexico, where he graduated from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma in 1947. From 1948 to 1949 he studied North American literature at Columbia University. Before returning to Nicaragua in 1950, he traveled through France, Italy, and Spain. Upon his return, he began working in sculpture and shortly thereafter founded the literary press El Hilo Azul. His strong political stand against the dictatorship of Nicaragua’s Anastasio Samoza was the source of some of Cardenal’s early political poems, which were published anonymously in Chile and abroad. Other poets opposed to Samoza formed a group with Cardenal, and in 1954 he participated in an unsuccessful, armed assault against Samoza at the Presidential Palace.

In 1957 Cardenal decided to turn his life in a different direction, and he became a novice at the Trappist abbey Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where Thomas Merton was novice master. Because of health issues, Cardenal left the monastery after only two years but continued his religious training at a Benedictine monastery in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and was eventually ordained as a Catholic priest in Managua, Nicaragua, in 1965.

Following his ordination, Cardenal began plans with Merton to create a small contemplative community in Nicaragua. The commune of Solentiname was established in 1966 on an island in Lake Nicaragua. Painting, sculpture, pottery, and poetry flourished there as part of an attempt to interpret the Gospels from a revolutionary perspective.

In 1977 several young men and women from Solentiname participated in an uprising against the military government. Cardenal had just left the country for diplomatic reasons and was sentenced to several years’ imprisonment in...

(The entire section is 913 words.)