Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Cardenal was influenced by Amerindian themes. Ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica arise from the text. The Mayan perspective of time as cyclical is evident throughout the poem. Each verse creates a passage to the following verse in a continuous thread that reinforces the thematic interplay between past and present. He repeats the temporal unit of katún several times as a multifaceted link that connects the stanzas thematically as well as structurally. The brilliance of the most accurate calendar ever calculated is linked to other accomplishments of the Mayan civilization throughout the seventh stanza.

The term katún appears in the first, eighth, and ninth stanzas. Katún is the final day of the Mayan twenty-year cycle, which consists of 7,200 days. When the Spaniards confronted the Maya in 1541, their arrival coincided with the first year of Katún 11. This date was an omen of the impending demise of the Mayan civilization, and it continues to serve as a symbol of recurring misfortune. The eighth stanza encapsulates this temporal vision: “They adored time: the mysterious/ effluxion of time.” This concept is concretized in the examples that follow. Each day was assigned a deity. The past and future were intermingled in their oral history and glyphs. “They used the same katúns for past and future,/ in the belief that time was re-enacted/ like the motions of the heavenly bodies they observed.”


(The entire section is 479 words.)