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Ernesto Cardenal: 1925—: Poet

Married Poetry To Politics

Ernesto Cardenal was born on January 20, 1925, in Granada, Nicaragua, where he wrote his first poem at the age of seven. His parents, Rodolfo Cardenal and Esmerelda Martinez, provided Cardenal and his brother Fernando with a middle-class upbringing. Cardenal attended a Catholic school run by the Jesuits in Granada. Upon graduation in 1943 he left to study philosophy and literature at the National University of Mexico, earning a degree in literature in 1947. During his time in Mexico, he published several poems in local magazines.

In 1948 Cardenal traveled to New York City and spent two years studying North American literature at Columbia University. He was impressed by American poets William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman and, in particular, Ezra Pound. The Alsop Review website noted that Cardenal "[Identified Pound's] poetic style as 'exteriorismo'—a word [Cardenal] coined." According to the Painted Rooster Press website, Cardenal defined the style as "objective poetry: narrative and anecdotal, made of the elements of real life and concrete things, with proper names and precise detail and exact data and numbers and facts and sayings … the only poetry that can express Latin American reality, reach the people, and be revolutionary."

At a Glance . . .

Born on January 20, 1925, in Granada, Nicaragua; son of Rodolfo Cardenal and Esmerelda Martinez. Education: National University of Mexico, degree in literature, 1947; Columbia University, New York City, postgraduate study, North American literature, 1948-49; seminary training, Trappist monastery, Gethsemani, KY, 1957-59; Benedictine Monastery, Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1959-61; Le Ceja Seminary, Colombia, 1961-65. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Christian-Marxist.

Career: Poet, 1960–; Priest, 1965–; Minister of Culture, Sandinista regime, Nicaragua, 1979-88.

Memberships: Official, Sandanista National Liberation Front (FSLN), early 1970s-95; National Union for Popular Action (UNAP), 1950s; co-director, co-founder, Casa de Los Tres Mundos, Cultural Center, Granada and Managua, Nicaragua; founder, Solentiname Commune, Nicaragua, 1966-77.

Awards: Honorary doctorates, University of Granada and Valencia, Spain, 1987, and Latin American University, Medillin, Colombia, 1986; honorary member, Academy of Fine Arts, Germany, 1986; Maximum Order of Augusto Cesar Sandino, Government of Nicaragua, 1985; Knights Order, Arts and Letters, Government of France, 1985; Peace Prize, Germany, 1980; Christopher Book Award for The Psalms of Struggle and Liberation, 1972.

In the early 1950s Cardenal was active both poetically and politically. He co-authored a multi-volume translation of North American poetry, launched a poetry magazine called El Hilo Azul ("The Blue Thread"), and published his own work as well as that of other poets. Cardenal also began to sculpt during this time, and his work has been shown in Latin America and the United States. Politically, Cardenal became increasingly disillusioned with the Somoza regime, and sought to reflect those feelings in his poetry. However, the dictatorship harshly censored any writing it deemed revolutionary. As a result, Cardenal published several poems outside of Nicaragua under the name Anonymous Nicaraguan. By 1954 he had joined the National Union for Popular Action (UNAP), an illegal revolutionary group, and on April 3 of that year, members of the group attacked the presidential palace. The attack, which history has called the "April Rebellion," was unsuccessful, and many of Cardenal's associates were captured and executed. Cardenal managed to escape and went into hiding. During this time he wrote one of his most famous poems, "Zero Hour," detailing the 1934 assassination of Nicaraguan revolutionary leader Cesar Augusto Sandino by Somoza's guard. "It's a poem of heroic evocation in which the death of a hero is also seen as the rebirth of nationhood: when the hero dies, green herbs rise where he has fallen," wrote a reviewer in National Catholic Reporter. It was a poem that used history to urge Nicaraguans to continue their struggle against oppression and dictatorship. The poem was an example of Cardenal's "exteriorismo."

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Katie Burke (1953–) Biography - Personal to Galeazzo Ciano (1903–1944) BiographyErnesto Cardenal: 1925—: Poet Biography - Married Poetry To Politics, Found Inspiration In Religion, Became Spokesman For Sandinistas, Maintained Dream Of Utopia