Ernesto Cardenal

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Ernesto Cardenal at La Chascona (Santiago).

Ernesto Cardenal Martínez (born January 20, 1925) is a Nicaraguan Catholic priest, poet and politician. He is a liberation theologian and the founder of the primitivist art community in the Solentiname Islands, where he lived for more than ten years (1965–1977). A member of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, a party he has since left, he was Nicaragua's minister of culture from 1979 to 1987.


Ernesto Cardenal in Managua.”

Was born into an upper-class family in Granada, Nicaragua, Cardenal is a first cousin of the poet Pablo Antonio Cuadra. Cardenal studied literature first in Managua and from 1942 to 1946 in Mexico. Later, from 1947 to 1949, he continued his studies in New York City and traveled through Italy, Spain and Switzerland between 1949 and 1950.

In July 1950, he returned to Nicaragua, where he participated in the 1954 April Revolution against Anastasio Somoza García's regime. The coup d'état failed and ended with the deaths of many of his associates. Cardenal subsequently entered the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemani (Kentucky, United States), under the other poet-priest Thomas Merton, but in 1959 he left to study theology in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Cardenal was ordained a Catholic priest in 1965 in Granada.[1] He went to the Solentiname Islands where he founded a Christian, almost monastic, mainly peasant community, which eventually led to the founding of the artists' colony. It was there that the famous book El Evangelio en Solentiname ("The Gospel of Solentiname") was written. Cardenal collaborated closely with the leftist Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN), in working to overthrow Anastasio Somoza Debayle's régimen.

Many members of the community of Solentiname engaged with the process of the Revolution in the guerrilla warfare that the FSLN had developed to strike at the regime. The year 1977 was crucial to Cardenal's community since Somoza's National Guard, as a result from an attack to the headquarters stationed in the city of San Carlos, a few miles from the community, raided Solentiname and burned it to the ground, with Cardenal fleeing to Costa Rica.

On 19 July 1979, immediately after the Liberation of Managua, he was named Minister of Culture by the new Sandinista regime. He campaigned for a "revolution without vengeance"[2] His brother, Fernando Cardenal, also a Catholic priest (in the Jesuit order), was appointed Minister of Education. When Pope John Paul II visited Nicaragua in 1983, he openly scolded Ernesto Cardenal, who knelt before him, on the Managua airport runway, for resisting his order to resign from the government and admonished him: "Usted tiene que arreglar sus asuntos con la Iglesia" ("You must fix your affairs with the Church"). On February 4, 1984[3] Pope John Paul II defrocked Cardenal because of his participation in liberation theology, a decision overturned 30 years later, August 4, 2014 by Pope Francis.[4] Cardenal remained Minister of Culture until 1987, when his ministry was closed for economic reasons.

Cardenal left the FSLN in 1994, protesting the authoritarian direction of the party under Daniel Ortega but insists that he has retained his leftist opinions. "Calling it a robbery of the people and dictatorship not a revolutionary movement" when he left the government.[5] He is a member of the Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista (Sandinista Renovation Movement, MRS) that participated in the 2006 Nicaraguan general election. Days before the election, Cardenal stated, in a clear reference to his dispute with Ortega, "I think it would be more desirable an authentic capitalism, as Montealegre's (Eduardo Montealegre, the presidential candidate for Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance) would be, than a false Revolution."[6]

Ernesto Cardenal at San Diego State University, 2001

He is also a member of the board of advisers of the pan-Latin American TV station teleSUR.

Cardenal has been for a long time a polemical figure of Nicaragua's literature and cultural history. He has been described as "the most important poet right now in Latin America"[7] politically and poetically. He has been a very vocal figure of Nicaragua and a valid key to analyze and understand the contemporaneous literary and cultural life of Nicaragua. He participated in the Stock Exchange of Visions project in 2007.

During a short visit to India, he came in touch with a group of writers called the Hungry generation, which had a profound influence on them.

Cardenal in his tour of the United States in 2011 to promote his newest work brought mixed reviews with groups such as American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property protesting him making appearances at University campuses such as Xavier University for his Marxist ideology.[8]



Books in English[edit]

  • The Psalms of Struggle and Liberation, Herder and Herder, 1971.
  • Homage to the American Indians, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1973.
  • Apocalypse and Other Poems, (Editor and author of introduction, Robert Pring-Mill),New Directions (New York, NY), 1974.
  • Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems, (Editor, Donald Walsh),New Directions (New York, NY), 1980.
  • With Walker in Nicaragua and Other Early Poems: 1949-1954, Wesleyan (Middleton, CT), 1984.
  • Golden UFOs: The Indian Poems: Los ovnis de oro: Poemas indios, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1992.
  • The Doubtful Strait/El estrecho dudoso, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1995.
  • Flights of Victory/Vuelos de victoria, Curbstone Books (Willmantic, CT), 1995.
  • Cosmic Canticle, Curbstone Books (Willmantic, CT), 2002.
  • Love: A Glimpse of Eternity, (Translator, Dinah Livingston), Paraclete Press (MA), 2006.
  • Pluriverse: New and Selected Poems, (Editor, Jonathan Cohen),New Directions, 2009.
  • The Gospel in Solentiname, Orbis Books (Maryknoll, NY), 2010.
  • The Origin of Species and Other Poems, (Translator, John Lyons), Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 2011.[11]


  • Gethsemani Ky
  • Hora 0 ("Zero Hour")
  • Epigramas ("Epigrams")
  • Oración Por Marilyn Monroe ("Prayer for Marilyn Monroe")
  • El estrecho dudoso ("The Doubtful Strait")
  • Los ovnis de oro ("Golden UFOs")
  • Homenaje a los indios americanos ("Homage to the American Indian")
  • Salmos ("Psalms")
  • Oráculo sobre Managua ("Oracle on Managua")
  • Con Walker en Nicaragua ("With Walker in Nicaragua and Other Early Poems")
  • Cántico Cósmico ("Cosmic Canticle")
  • El telescopio en la noche oscura ("Telescope in the Dark Night")
  • Vuelos de la Victoria ("Flights of Victory)
  • Pluriverse: New and Selected Poems
  • El Origen de las Especies y otros poemas ("The Origin of the Species")

"Waslala" Published by Chase Avenue Press, Winter Park, Florida, in 1983.

Significance Of His Poetry And Its Influence From His Life[edit]

Earlier works were focused on love life and the idea. However some of the works like "Zero Hour" a direct correlation to his Marxist political ideas being directly tied in zero hours case about the assassination of guerrilla leader Cesar Augusto Sandino.[12] However Cardinals poetry also was heavily influenced by his unique Catholic ideology mainly liberation theology. Some of his latest works are heavily influenced on his understanding of science and evolution.Though it's still had heavy dialogue influence to its earlier Marxist and Catholic material.[13] Cardenal sums up his later material in a PBS news hour interview “In the first place, one matures, and can write about things one couldn't before. One couldn't get poetry out of this theme or this situation. And later, you can do it because you have more technical ability to do it. Now I can do easily things that were impossible for me to do when I was younger. That also happens to painters, I guess, and to all artists and creators. Even politicians mature and become, perhaps, more astute or more cunning.”[14]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Revolution ohne Rache" in: Ernesto Cardenal 80. In: Berliner Morgenpost, 10. Juni 2008. Retrieved, 23 January 2013.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ |, Manuel Roig-Franzia (2011-05-26). "Ernesto Cardenal, poet and Catholic priest, still causes controversy at age 86". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  6. ^ La Prensa, November 2, 2006. Managua's Daily Newspaper (in Spanish)
  7. ^ La Prensa August 26, 2007, (in Spanish)
  8. ^ |, Manuel Roig-Franzia (2011-05-26). "Ernesto Cardenal, poet and Catholic priest, still causes controversy at age 86". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-11-22. 
  9. ^ The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Recipients List Archived February 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 1979. Retrieved 14 January 2013. 
  11. ^ "Ernesto Cardenal". Poetry Foundation. 2016-11-20. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  12. ^ "Ernesto Cardenal". Poetry Foundation. 2016-11-20. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  13. ^ |, Manuel Roig-Franzia (2011-05-26). "Ernesto Cardenal, poet and Catholic priest, still causes controversy at age 86". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  14. ^ "Ernesto Cardenal". Poetry Foundation. 2016-11-21. Retrieved 2016-11-21. 

External links[edit]