Ernesto Cardenal / Roberto Bolaño

Ernesto Cardenal

Those of us who wanted to be poets when we were twenty, in 1973, read Ernesto Cardenal, the author of Epigramas, Oración por Marylin Monroe, Salmos, Homenaje a los indios americanos, this last title quite superior in certain aspects to Neruda’s Canto general, and a new attempt, probably unsuccessful, at rereading Whitman.

Now a new book of memoirs with a lapidary title appears, Vida perdida (Seix Barral), and one can’t help, when reading it, but remember the time when reading Cardenal, a Catholic priest, fascinated us, precisely those of us who were lascivious and sinners and who never went to church, among other reasons because of the unbearable heaviness of priests and also because most of us didn’t believe in God either. And we had no intention of reforming ourselves, on the contrary, with every passing day we were more sinful, and we were helped in that endeavor, not to say encouraged, by Ernesto Cardenal’s poetry. Now this book appears, irregular like almost all memoirs (and like life), and Ernesto Cardenal’s voice sounds the same as it does in his memorable poems, but everything has changed, and what was once hope, an invitation to the unknown (or at least it seemed so to us), is now a silence and a quietude that surge from a lost province where the poet Cardenal still lives and still moves, despite having lost so many battles, recounting with slow prose the vicissitudes of his family, because that is what we find in this Vida perdida [Lost Life], the fate of a family and the fate of a man who is one Latin America’s greatest poets, along with the portraits of a few friends who remain beyond death, such as the American writer Thomas Merton, also a priest, and all of that together gives us a life more won than lost, and the final image of Cardenal who lives in limbo, which isn’t such a bad way to live, already so close to the sky.

{ Roberto Bolaño, Entre paréntesis, Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 2004 }

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