Ernesto Cardenal Biography

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(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 Roman Catholic priest in 1965.

With the guidance of Merton, Cardenal planned to establish the spiritual community of Solentiname on Lake Nicaragua. He created a school for the native folk arts, poetry workshops, and the political movement of liberation theology. He visited Cuba to study its revolutionary process. In 1976, he represented Solentiname in the Russell tribunal for human rights violations in Latin America. In 1977, after Sandinista leaders had ordered Cardenal on a diplomatic mission, Somoza’s army destroyed Solentiname. Cardenal was exiled from Nicaragua until the government of reconstruction appointed him minister of culture in 1979. He served internationally in the cause of peace and disarmament. After earning the Rubén Darío Prize, the highest Nicaraguan honor, he was honored by the governments of France and Germany, among those of other nations. Several international universities bestowed honorary doctorates upon Cardenal.

Cardenal’s autobiography, Vida perdida, is an excellent source for biographical information, though not necessarily more accurate than objective sources. References to literary influences and Cardenal’s creative contemporaries permeate the text. His complex values and belief system shine through his personal history as he reminisces about his literary production as spiritual experiences, with an unaffected style laced with self-effacing humor.

In Vida perdida, Cardenal defines himself as a Christian Marxist whose first calling is to serve God. His service is politically committed, focusing on the Central American peasants. His poems not only spoke for the voiceless; they enabled Cardenal to promote and publish poetry collections by “ordinary people,” allowing them a personal as well as collective poetic voice.


(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...

(The entire section is 1,390 words.)