St Columba, or Columcille, and the island of Iona are the inspiration for James Harpur in this book of delicate lyric poems. Delving into the stories of the saint – including visions of angels, struggles with Picts, and various miracles – Harpur mingles his own poetic imagination with the spirit of Columba and the landscape of Iona: the result is poetry full of spiritual freedom and redolent of an age of wonder in which the natural world and the elements were perceived to be in harmony with the divine.
James Harpur has published seven books of poetry and won a number of awards, including the Michael Hartnett Poetry Prize and the UK National Poetry Competition. He is a member of Aosdána, the Irish academy of the arts, and lives in the wilds of West Cork. www.jamesharpur.com
Harpur’s eighth poetry collection wears its wide reading with the lightness of a pilgrim’s backpack and, like a still pool, repays repeated readings, and reflection. His option of the persona of a Columban monk in some of these gently challenging poems adds to the sense of walking with Columba in a parallel period of loss and change.
Martyn Halsall,Church Times
A rich and rare approach to the mystical and the ‘miraculous’, the strange but real parts of a life that ﬂoat between earth and heaven, mud and glory … Beautifully achieved with a subtle beauty, music and growing intensity that makes a fruitful vine of the whole.
John F. Deane
The Oratory of Light was written during the pandemic, when confinement led Harpur to recall his first visit to the island of Iona and the physical and spiritual freedom he found there. The poems riff on the life and work of the island’s greatest alumnus Columba – Columcille in Irish – some placing the reader in the mind of the man himself, a contemporary or simply observed through Harpur’s meditative poetic eye.
He draws on the works of the seventh century cleric Adomnan, Columba’s first biographer, the 16th century scholar Manus O’Donnell and a series of Irish language verses, anonymous but often attributed to Columba himself to produce a deeply affecting collection even for a reader without religious faith. Harpur’s work is universally human at heart.
Charlie Connelly, from a review in The New European
Cover wood engraving and drawings by Paul Ó Colmáin. www.paulocolmain.com