Early Years

Ernesto Cardenal was born in Granada, Nicaragua in 1925. His childhood years were marked by an ever-growing interest in literature and writing, which continued through his studies of literature and humanities as a teenager in Managua. From 1942 to 1947, he earned his Master of Letters degree from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). In 1948, he was admitted to Columbia University in New York City, where he entered a master’s program in North American literature.

Letter of Admission to Columbia University, New York
1948-08-11

It was at Columbia where Cardenal encountered the work of poets such as Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, and others. The impact of these writers, in particular Pound, helped develop Cardenal’s technique of exteriorism, which Cardenal defined as “subjective poetry: narrative and anecdotal, made with the elements of real life and with concrete things, with proper names and precise details and exact dates and numbers and facts and sayings.” His studies, along with the influence of family members such as his grandmother Agustina “Mimi” Urtecho, and uncle and fellow poet José Coronel Urtecho, helped Cardenal develop a strong poetic voice, which still resonates throughout Latin America and beyond.

In 1963, Cardenal along with Coronel Urtecho published an impactful anthology of their translations of North American poets titled Antología de poesía norteamericana. As seen in the selected letters found on this page, translation work involved frequent correspondence with the collaborating authors for explanation of some of the more nuanced language used by poets, like Lawrence Ferlinghetti.