Monday, June 27, 2011

Ernesto Cardenal

Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal was born in 1925. After his conversion to Christianity, in 1956, he studied under Thomas Merton at the Trappist monastery at Gethsemani, Kentucky, and eventually become a priest.

Cardenal used his poetry as a political weapon against the dictatorship of the Somoza family in Nicaragua. He embraced “Christian Marxism” and was connected to the Sandinista government. After the dictatorship fell, he served from 1979 to 1987 as Minister of Culture. As a proponent of “liberation theology”, he has sought economic liberation for the poor and oppressed in the name of Christ.

Pope John Paul II — who grew up under communist oppression in Poland — criticized Cardenal, when the poet met him at the Managua airport in 1983; in turn, Cardenal has called that visit an “historic error”, and said the pontiff was confusing liberty with capitalism.

Ernesto Cardenal has used his poetry to point out historic wrongs, political abuses, and the shallowness of our materialistic society. It may be ironic that his best-known poem is about film star Marilyn Monroe.

Prayer for Marilyn Monroe

accept this girl called Marilyn Monroe throughout the world
though that was not her name
(but You know her real name, that of the orphan raped at nine,
the shopgirl who tried to kill herself at sixteen)
who now goes into Your presence without make-up
without her Press Agent
without photographers or autograph seekers
lonely as an astronaut facing the darkness of outer space.

When she was a girl, she dreamed she was naked in a church
------(according to Time)
before a prostrate multitude, heads to the ground,
and had to walk on tiptoe to avoid the heads.
You know our dreams better than the psychiatrists.
Church, home or cave all represent the safety of the womb
but also something more....
The heads are admirers, so much is clear (that
mass of heads in the darkness below the beam to the screen).
But the temple isn't the studios of 20th Century-Fox.
The temple, of gold and marble, is the temple of her body
in which the Son of Man stands whip in hand
driving out the money-changers of 20th Century-Fox
who made Your house of prayer a den of thieves.

in this world defiled by radioactivity and sin,
surely You will not blame a shopgirl
who (like any other shopgirl) dreamed of being a star.
And her dream became "reality" (Technicolor reality).
All she did was follow the script we gave her,
that of our own lives, but it was meaningless.
Forgive her Lord and forgive all of us
for this our 20th Century
and the Mammoth Super-Production in whose making we all

She hungered for love and we offered her tranquilizers.
For the sadness of our not being saints they recommended
Remember, Lord, her increasing terror of the camera
and hatred of make-up (yet insisting on fresh make-up
for each scene) and how the terror grew
making her late to the studios.

Like any other shopgirl
she dreamed of being a star.
And her life was as unreal as a dream an analyst reads and files.

Her romances were kisses with closed eyes
which when the eyes are opened
are seen to have been played out beneath the spotlights and the
spotlights are switched off
and the two walls of the room (it was a set) are taken down
while the Director moves away scriptbook in hand, the scene being
------safely shot.
Or like a cruise on a yacht, a kiss in Singapore, a dance in Rio,
a reception in the mansion of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
viewed in the sad tawdriness of a cheap apartment.

The film ended without the final kiss.
They found her dead in bed, hand on the phone.
And the detectives never learned who she was going to call.
It was as
though someone had dialed the only friendly voice
and heard a recording that says "WRONG NUMBER";
or like someone wounded by gangsters, who reaches toward a
------disconnected phone.

whoever it may have been that she was going to call
but did not (and perhaps it was no one at all
or Someone not in the Los Angeles telephone book),
------Lord, You pick up that phone!

(This is my variation based on several translations)

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Ernesto Cardenal: second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: