On the death of Ernesto Cardenal

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WIf one were to pack the twentieth-century poetry clichés in a single sack, tie them up, throw them around a few times and open them again, it might result in Ernesto Cardenal. Because in this man almost everything is included, above all, of course: “commitment”. So intimacy and stubbornness, love and politics, poetry and propaganda. Born in Granada, Nicaragua in 1925, the citizen son Cardenal went through numerous stages that constantly dragged him back and forth between sinking and agitation. He studied literature, fought Nicaragua’s dictator Somoza, went to Kentucky to the trappist and mystic Thomas Merton, was ordained a priest, devoted himself to liberation theology and, after the Sandinista revolution, became the culture minister of a country that was able to do it like Cuba, rich North America to annoy through his defiant socialist project. Cardenal’s book of poems “Psalms” (1969) is the lyrical testimony of a theology for the poor.

But then the fruits became rotten, the ideals atrophied, and in 1994 Cardenal broke away from the Sandinista. His own cause was rather the parish, which he founded on an archipelago in the Great Lake of Nicaragua and immortalized in his book “The Gospel of the Peasants of Solentiname”. A poem entitled “Prayer for Marilyn Monroe” had made him famous in 1965 – now he became the model padre that defended indigenous peoples, preached classless humanism and disarmed the interviewer of “New Germany” in 2010 with sentences such as : “The perfect society is identical to communism.”

Hidden poet

According to his own information, his “Cántico cósmico” (chants of the universe) tried to “summarize everything into scientific poetry”, and the fatal word – 43 chants and five hundred pages – reads “everything”: Because Cardenal roamed the props chamber of belief systems and could not do anything leave of it. His “scientific poetry” therefore contains only glaring labels, hardly any thoughts, and struggles to “bring political science and poetry into one form and reconcile them with mysticism and revolution”. The result was broad rather than deep, timeless vehicle for a bizarre ego mission that was nowhere admired with more emotion than in Germany. Here the poet found a dedicated place of publication in the publishing house Peter Hammer, here he read in front of full halls. This is how Cardenal became synonymous with the unconventional ways that good on earth is looking for. In 1980 he received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

“But let’s leave the preacher, the rhetorician Cardenal,” Harald Hartung wrote in this newspaper more than twenty years ago. “There is a real poet hidden in him.” Indeed. The real poet referred to Rubén Darío and Ezra Pound, worked as a form shatterer, bricoleur and visionary. Like Pablo Neruda and Eduardo Galeano, he co-wrote another story on the continent, including certain coarseness. In a country that did not play a role on anyone’s map during the Somoza dictatorship, he gave a voice to the disenfranchised. He was able to write love poems that play witty with the Spanish baroque tradition and sonically translate Heine’s “A boy loves a girl” into the present. The tirelessly varied topic: the macho is always the stupid. Ernesto Cardenal liked to read the funny verses publicly even in old age. Now the poet and priest whom Pope John Paul II suspended from the ministry and who was recently rehabilitated by Pope Francis I died in Managua at the age of 95. It will not be easily forgotten.

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