Ernesto Cardenal Analysis

Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

Part 1 of the autobiography of Ernesto Cardenal (kahr-day-NAHL), Vida perdida (lost life), was published in 1999 by Seix Barral in Barcelona. It is an excellent biographical resource and starting place for exploring the poet’s fascinating life and thought. The chapters devoted to his years as a Trappist monk in Gethsemani, Kentucky, and his correspondence with the Catholic mystic, theologian, and writer Thomas Merton enlighten the reader attempting to comprehend the corpus of Cardenal’s poetry.

Cardenal wrote essays and other prose works as he served as minister of culture in Nicaragua and as a director of Casa de los Tres Mundos, a literary and cultural organization in Granada, Nicaragua. Vida en el amor (1970; To Live Is to Love, 1972; Abide in Love, 1995) is a collection of meditations written after his novitiate years at Gethsemani.


(World Poets and Poetry)

Ernesto Cardenal was instrumental in the rebirth of Nicaragua’s identity as “a nation of poets,” as it became known after Rubén Darío immortalized the poet-nation at the beginning of the twentieth century. Cardenal’s life is as fascinating as his poetry. Controversy over the literary and political value of his work resulted from his attempts to reconcile the many roles he had played, from monk to priest to governmental official to promoter of literacy and the arts. His political ideology seemed inconsistent as he switched public roles. From a bourgeois family background, he espoused Marxism and militancy, then Christianity and nonviolent resistance. This dichotomy is evident in his work, but these ideological conflicts enhance rather than detract from his poetic corpus.

Consistent in his belief that art is linked to politics, his poetry actively supported the revolution that in 1979 overthrew the regime begun by dictator Anastasio Somoza García. After a functional social democracy was established in Cardenal’s homeland, he served as an unofficial yet visible cultural ambassador. He was instrumental in the organization of community-based literacy and poetry workshops that have earned national as well as international success.

The poet has also been praised as an artist. His sculpture won recognition in the United States as well as in Central America and Mexico. A stone sculpture of Christ dominates the courtyard of the Trappist monastery in Gethsemani, Kentucky, where he served as a novitiate from 1957 to 1959.

Cardenal has been honored with several awards for his literary achievements as well as for his public service. In 1972, he received the Christopher Book Award for The Psalms of Struggle and Liberation. In 1980, he received the Premio de La Paz grant, sponsored by Libreros de la República Federal de Alemania. He has received state-sponsored honors and honorary doctorates from several European nations. Cardenal was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature and received the Pablo Neruda Ibero-American Poetry Prize in 2009.


(World Poets and Poetry)

Cardenal, Ernesto. Abide in Love. Translated by Thomas Merton and Mev Puleo. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1995. Merton provides a detailed introduction and Puleo’s meticulous translations enhance this new edition of the collection Vida en el amor.

_______. Apocalypse and Other Poems. Edited by Robert Pring-Mill and Donald D. Walsh. New York: New Directions, 1977. Both editors, Cardenal experts, provide insightful introductions to the collection. The translators include the editors, along with Thomas Merton, Kenneth Rexroth, and Mireya Jaimes-Freyre.

_______. The Doubtful Strait = El estrecho dudoso. Translated by John Lyons. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1995. Tamara Williams provides a substantial introduction to this collection. It is a detailed critical study of its genesis, technical, thematic, and stylistic elements, and historical and literary influences. Demonstrates how an epic quality is developed through the continuous thread of the quest throughout this collection.

_______. “Ernesto Cardenal Describes Sandinista Split.” Interview by Leslie Wirpsa. National Catholic Reporter 31, no. 30 (May 26, 1995): 9. Cardenal describes Nicaraguan politics and reflects on the efforts made during the years immediately following the establishment of the Sandinista government.

_______. Flights of Victory. Translated by Marc Zimmerman. Maryknoll,...

(The entire section is 640 words.)