The Cuban poet Heberto Padilla, who died at the end of September, aged sixty-eight, was among those writers of whom it may be said that he made history, less by what he wrote or even thought than by the course of events, which in his case has in retrospect a dreadful inevitability. To understand his life and work, we must return to the moment at which his name first came to global prominence, in 1971, and we must recall the atmosphere of left-wing sanctity that then surrounded the personality and reputation of the Cuban tyrant.

Castro and his revolution had burst on a world ripe for some new apocalypse. The time was reminiscent of St. Paul’s description of Roman society at Christ’s birth: “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). The end of the Eisenhower era was symbolized not only by the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, but also by the seizure of...


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