Ernesto Cardenal 1925–
Nicaraguan poet, translator, and nonfiction writer.
Cardenal writes most of his poetry in a montage style that unites revolutionary political ideology with Roman Catholic theology. Like other modern revolutionary poets, most notably Pablo Neruda, Cardenal focuses his writing on oppression in society and attempts to motivate his readers to bring about social change. Critics often note that Cardenal has been strongly influenced by the poetry of Ezra Pound. Cardenal's juxtaposition of disparate images, his contrast between lyrical and prosaic passages of poetry, and his emphasis on the relationship between socioeconomics and spirituality are devices employed by Pound in his most important work, the Cantos. Cardenal's technical skill and the sociopolitical relevance of his work have led one reviewer to praise him as "probably the most stimulating Latin American poet to have emerged since 1950."
In the 1950s Cardenal became deeply involved in the revolutionary politics of Nicaragua and joined forces with those opposed to the dictatorship of the United States-backed Somoza regime. Converting to Catholicism in 1956, he became a novice at Gethsemeni, a Trappist abbey in Kentucky, where he studied under the well-known religious scholar and poet, Thomas Merton. Cardenal completed his studies in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1965. He later cofounded Solentiname, a religious commune on an island in Lake Nicaragua, where he preached mertonian nonviolence. In 1970, however, Cardenal changed his stance on violence and decreed that militancy would be necessary to achieve the Christian goals of peace and brotherhood desired by the anti-Somozan majority. After the downfall of the Somoza regime in 1979, Cardenal was appointed Minister of Culture for the new government of Nicaragua.
Cardenal's first major work, "La hora 0" (1956; "Zero Hour"), was collected along with seven related poems and published as Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems (1980), a poetic history of events leading to the Nicaraguan revolution in 1979. The use of factual information, crosscutting, and contrast in these poems contribute to a style not unlike that used by documentary filmmakers. Cardenal creates a multilevel narrative in his long poem "El estrecho dudoso" (1966) by using similar techniques. On the surface, "El estrecho dudoso" relates a history of destruction in Central America; through comparisons and juxtaposed images, however, the poem becomes a commentary on contemporary political and cultural exploitation. Cardenal's concern with the decline of spiritual values is also evident in his collection Homenaje a los indios americanos (1969; Homage to the American Indians), in which the psychic wholeness of extinct Indian civilizations is contrasted with modern imperialism, and in Oracion por Marilyn Monroe, y otros poemas (1965; Marilyn Monroe and Other Poems), in which commercialization is seen to have replaced emotional spontaneity.
Some critics have denounced Cardenal's poetry as propagandistic and didactic. Many find his Marxist treatises incompatible with his Catholic beliefs. However, most agree that Cardenal avoids mere agitprop through his strong command of poetic technique and his controlled, fact-oriented approach to potentially melodramatic situations.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52 and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2.)