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Ernesto Cardenal: 1925—: Poet

Maintained Dream Of Utopia

In 1990 and in 1996, the Sandinistas lost the presidential elections. Though many remained loyal to the FSLN, Cardenal renounced his membership in the party in January of 1995. He was deeply disturbed by the human rights violations committed by the FSLN, as well as the increasing corruption within the party. He told the National Catholic Reporter, "The revolution was corrupted when we lost the elections. There was desperation that came along with that loss of power, and there was anxiety to get it back. The leaders of the party created a commander who rules in an authoritarian way." He was referring to Daniel Ortega, the former Sandinista president.

In 1989 Cardenal published what many critics consider his masterpiece, Cosmic Canticle. The nearly 500-page poem tackles the big questions: who are we, why are we here, where are we going. A reviewer on the Alsop Review website noted that Cardenal said the poem is "the culmination of my life's work of some thirty years." Cardenal continued, "It deals with the entire cosmos. That's why the poem is so long. It is principally written in scientific language. I attempt here to unify science and poetry; also poetry and politics, science and mysticism, and mysticism and revolution!" When not composing or reading poetry, Cardenal devoted his time to the Casa de los Tres Mundos, the cultural center he co-founded in 1992 in Granada, Nicaragua. Though his days were filled with art, he was not immune to the strife all around him. In 1998 Nicaragua was rocked by Hurricane Mitch, which killed over 6,000 people and left over 300,000 homeless. By the dawn of the new millennium, Nicaragua was the second poorest nation in Latin America, behind Haiti. It continued to be plagued by economic, political, and social instability. Yet Cardenal, still strong in his faith, continued to express hope for the future. He told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, "Still we have to maintain our hope for a utopia."

Selected writings

Gethsemani, Ky., Ecuador 0 Degrees, 1960.

Oracion por Marilyn Monroe, y otros poemas, Ediciones La Tertulia, 1965, translated as Marilyn Monroe and Other Poems, Search Press, 1975.

El estrecho dudoso, Ediciones Cultura Hispanica, 1966, translated as The Doubtful Strait, Indiana University Press, 1995.

Salmos, Institucion Gran Duque de Alba, 1967, translated as The Psalms of Struggle and Liberation, Herder & Herder, 1971.

Homenaje a los indios americanos, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua, 1969, translated as Homage to the American Indians, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

Vida en el Amor, Lohle, 1970, translated as To Live Is to Love, Herder & Herder, 1972.

La hora cero y otros poemas, Ediciones Saturno, 1971, translated as Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems, New Directions, 1980.

En Cuba, Lohle, 1972, translated as In Cuba, New Directions, 1974.

El Evangelio en Solentiname, Ediciones Sigueme, 1975, translated as The Gospel in Solentiname, Orbis Books, 1976.

From Nicaragua with Love: Poems 1979-1986, City Lights Press, 1986.

Golden UFOs: The Indian Poems/Los Ovnis de oro: poemas indios, Indiana University Press, 1992.

Cosmic Canticle, Curbstone Press, 1993.



Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1999.

National Catholic Reporter, May 27, 1994, p. 28; May 26, 1995, p. 9.


El Mundo (Madrid, Spain), www.el-mundo.es/larevista/num184/textos/erne1.html (March 21, 2003).

"Ernesto Cardenal," Curbstone Press www.curbstone.org/authdetail.cfm?AuthID=39 (March 21, 2003).

"Ernesto Cardenal," Painted Rooster Press, www.nicapoets.org/cyber-anthology/cardenal.html (March 21, 2003).

"Ernesto Cardenal, Cosmic Canticle," Alsop Review, www.alsopreview.com/foley/jfCardenal.html (March 21, 2003).

—Candace LaBalle

Additional topics

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