Ernesto Cardenal Reads Some of His Poems

BY Larisa Epatko  August 30, 2011 at 12:27 AM EDT

At 86, Ernesto Cardenal is known as one of Latin America’s greatest living poets. His recent work reflects on humanity’s connection to nature and relationship to the universe. But even in his later years, Cardenal does not shy away from politics — or controversy — in his life or his writing.

Cardenal was born and raised in Nicaragua. He left the country in the 1950′s to study in Kentucky with the famed poet-priest Thomas Merton. When Cardenal later returned home, he was ordained a Catholic priest, and quickly resumed his political activism.

A committed Marxist, Cardenal championed the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. When the revolution seized power in the late 1970′s, Cardenal became that government’s first cultural minister.

It was that post that famously drew condemnation from Pope John Paul II, who publicly scolded Cardenal when he visited Nicaragua. The confrontation resulted in Cardenal losing his privileges as a Catholic priest.

Later, Cardenal left the government and the Sandinista party, opposing the leadership of Daniel Ortega.

Transcript: Ernesto Cardenal

Ernesto Cardenal reads more of his work in this web exclusive.