Ernesto Cardenal’s poetry is so deeply engaged with the
historical, political, and spiritual landscape of his life that biography
and bibliography seem almost arbitrary distinctions. Priest, social activist,
and the former Minister of Culture in Sandinista Nicaragua, Cardenal
is the most urgent and eloquent voice in a country of poets and revolutionaries,
a cultural icon whose life and writings have altered history.
From his years of contemplation at Thomas Merton’s Trappist monastery in
Kentucky, to his support for the overthrow of the corrupt Somoza regime in Nicaragua,
to his foundation of the liberationist Christian commune Solentiname and the
highly successful literacy workshops of the Sandinista years, Cardenal has tied
his poetry to his life and brought poetry to the lives of many.
Over the length of his career, Cardenal has produced a kind of poetic history
of his homeland, narrating the rise and destruction of successive waves of indigenous
and colonial cultures in Latin America and recounting the events of the Sandinista
revolution, including a fierce yet astonishingly generous critique of U.S. foreign
policy. Allen Ginsberg has said of his epic poem The Cosmic Canticle,
Cardenal “interweaves brilliant political-economic chronicle with panoramic
spiritual information, updating post-Poundian verse for [a] late 20th century
narration of the Americas’ last half-millennium.” Myth mixes with pop culture, an unceasing belief in the Divine with a profound
concern for the material world to form a “textural collage” – in
Neruda’s terms, “an impure poetry” that is as often unsettling
as it is beautiful, and is made with the common materials of everyday experience. Poetry,
politics and prayer join in Cardenal’s work; it speaks a truth that he
himself embodies, rendering its voice and its message inseparable.