J A M E S  H A R P U R  M  

    Books: click on each cover below to go to reviews and ordering details


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The Examined Life   Winner of the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize

‘This collection is quite brilliant – oscillating as it does between the comic and the tragic …’  Enda Wyley, Dublin Review of Books

‘A serious success — a subtle account of adolescence, friendship, confinement, the fashions of the 1970s, a meditation on the phrase ‘in loco parentis’, and a brilliant exercise of memory.’  Charles Moore, The Spectator

 ‘Haunted and haunting… a terrific examination of homesickness – the Odyssey a vibrant framework for Harpur’s five years away at school’. Martina Evans, The Irish Times

 ‘It haunts me still, this whole collection, months, nearly a year later … the details … carry something of the soul of England.’  Jonathan Davidson, The North

‘Completely wonderful to read. I was amazed, amused, horrified, and so very moved.’  Keggie Carew (Author of Dadland, winner of the 2017 Costa Biography Prize)

‘It’s an unflinching account of an unholy initiatory ordeal – moving, funny, tender, lyrical and exact …Terrific stuff.  Lindsay Clarke (Author of The Chymical Wedding, winner of the 1989 Whitbread Prize)

 ‘A quite marvellous work…an Odyssey, a Ulysses shaken up in the snow-dome of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’ From the foreword by Stephen Fry.




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The Oratory of Light: Poems Inspired by St Columba

‘St Columba, or Columcille, and the island of Iona are the inspiration behind 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.’

 ‘A deeply affecting collection even for a reader without religious faith. Harpurs work is universally human at heart.’
Charlie Connelly, The New European

 ‘This collection – with its seemingly simple language, its seemingly simple presentation on pure white paper, beautifully produced in signatures and not perfect bound, with wood engravings and other images by Paul Ó Colmáin for the cover and section openers – is like a miraculous vision in itself.’ Patricia McCarthy, Agenda

 ‘A rich and rare approach to the mystical and the miraculous, the strange but real parts of a life that oat 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, author of Naming of the Bones.




The White Silhouette

‘I have rarely encountered a contemporary voice that brings out as strongly and convincingly as does James Harpur’s in The White Silhouette the way in which spiritual wrestlings and traditions can live again in poetry.’ Michael O’Neill, London Magazine

 ‘An outstanding collection … I have read and admired earlier volumes by Harpur, but none of them had prepared me for just how remarkable a collection the White Silhouette proved to be.’ Glyn Pursglove, Acumen

 ‘In the White Silhouette he has created a … triumph of contemporary poetry … Harpur is the poet of Knights Hospitaller materials, a quest for that faraway Grail. Faith for Harpur has always blown in with the Lindisfarne storm. There are many poems here of astonishing quality.’ Thomas McCarthy, Poetry Ireland Review

'James Harpur’s The White Silhouette is a beautiful collection of poetry in three parts. “The White Silhouette” is a tour of faith and history. “Kells” imagines a conversation with the various artisans of that famous illuminated text. The last section, “Leaves,” blends classical references with memories of family, school, friendships, and loss. The book’s total effect is both complex and meditative. Throughout the collection, Harpur’s craft is both beautiful and subtle. Greg Brown, World Literature Today

'The White Silhouette is a triumph of spiritual word-wielding … The rhythm of Harpur’s lines are so masterfully controlled, one is borne along on his voice; calm, careful and always drifting … Holy or not, these poems are for the spirit.’  Joe Darlington, Manchester Review of Books



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Angels and Harvesters

‘A simply perfect book of poems … a poetry of compressed knowledge and sheer delight in telling tales … an exemplary text that should be read by anyone planning to bring out a book of poems.’ Thomas McCarthy, The Irish Examiner 

‘There is a deceptive clarity, an almost translucent surface to the poems which belies their complexity and ambition. These are poems in search of – and in response to – the numinous, the sacred, but they never settle for easy pieties or shortcuts.’ Michael Symmons Roberts and Moniza Alvi, PBS Bulletin

 ‘Harpur has to be lauded for his visionary poetry he comes close to saying the unsayable.’ Martin Crucefix, Poetry London

 ‘Harpur writes a lovely, cleanly expressed … poetry of a delicate formal constraint which always feels open to mystical experiences, looking out for light sources upon our bounded earth, seeking out the wider and fuller significance of human experience.’ Michael Glover, The Tablet


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The Dark Age  Winner of the 2009 Michael Hartnett Award

‘His poetry, always strongly imbued with a sense of the sacred, makes great play of light’s spiritual resonance ... his brilliant imagery and luxuriant natural descriptions offer plenty to enjoy.’ Sarah Crown, The Guardian

'The presence of divinity within The Dark Age is tender, subtle, Harpur is not proselytising. And if the force of "God" is present throughout, it's mostly through the inexplicable process that brings the supernal into art, sewing itself through the poetry with a gilt thread that makes Harpur's words sing.' Grace Wells, Contrary Magazine (Chicago)

'Harpur is all rock and soul, a spiritual poet, the visionary in the desert ... he is drawn to the early Irish saints (Columba, Kevin, Brendan, Gobnait) and ... Symeon Stylites, who lived on top of a pillar ... [these themes] help to unlock the mystical in the poetry reader and the poetic in the seeker of religious enlightenment.'
Rory Brennan, Books Ireland)

'Despite its title, Harpur's The Dark Age, an exploration of Christian spirituality and the challenges and losses of middle age, gleams with images of redemption ... like Eliot's Beckett, Harpur's Stylites is tempted by both fame and its insidious shadow, spiritual pride; he too must endure a literal fall in order to achieve understanding that every human individual "is Christ/Walking along through fields of wheat/Or by the sea of Galilee".  Fiona Sampson, The Irish Times

'This is not California, not Hockney 's incandescent poolside: it is windswept Iona and blasted Arimathea ... The Dark Age is a supremely beautiful collection.' Thomas McCarthy, Southword

'He writes movingly of the burden of prophetic obedience, and enables historic echoes of "devilish tricks", miracles, and powerful prayer to ring true in contemporary language.'   Martyn Halsall, Church Times

'Harpur succeeds in making these half-forgotten heroes of antiquity live, capturing glimmers of old light for a new dark age ... they have the feel of bright miniatures painted inside the initial letters of a medieval manuscript ­ vivid pictures that also happen to talk ... Harpur leads us into the difficult territory where words cease to be of use. His triumph in The Dark Age is to make the darkness shimmer with light.'  Duncan Sprott, Agenda

'Most of the other poems in this collection do use set forms, with breathtaking fluency. Harpur's use of rhyme, phrasing and diction have a seemingly effortless grace ... the book's part 2 is a series of thirteen sonnets about Irish saints ... Each story is perfectly encapsulated. Irish settings are evoked in almost every one ... The Dark Age opens with 'Roscommon Rain', one of the most lovely poems about rain you could hope to read.'  Mark Roper,
Poetry Ireland Review


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Oracle Bones 

‘James Harpur is ... not in the least like anyone else ... His is an amazingly consistent voice, compelling in intensity....his is a world of insight and intuitions....If you’re brave enough, read him. He will take you into a world you will find difficult to forget.’   R. J. Bailey, Envoi 

“Harpur takes the stuff of superstition – a Celtic monk, a Delphic priest, an Assyrian extispicist, a superannuated auspex – and gives it a persuasively timeless, often disturbing significance ... Oracle Bones offers a kind of religious poetry. It does not, however, carry a whiff of the ‘pious’ – rather, it has ‘a sense of the sacred running in parallel to the quotidian’.   Peter Reading, TLS

 ‘The movement of the verse is beautifully controlled, the employment of rhyme (or, more precisely, near-rhyme) wonderfully delicate. Harpur’s craftmanship articulates a sense of profound spirituality – especially in ‘Dies Irae’, a long poem, spoken out of the Dark Ages, that I felt compelled to read over and over ... The volume of poetry published this year that I have returned to most often ...’   Anthony Haynes, The Tablet (Books of the year)

‘This is serious stuff ... a map of heaven and hell, of prayer and meditation, of redemption and of unity ... Harpur’s genius has in ‘Dies Irae’ produced the answer to ‘The Waste Land’ that Eliot himself was himself incapable of. It remains only for the rest of us to catch up, and catch on.’ Michael Killingworth, Magma



















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  The Monk's Dream          

‘James Harpur’s second book is disciplined, intelligent...His sources are the Bible, the Aeneid, Bede and Irish laments. But Harpur doesn’t flirt with erudition. The Monk’s Dream is an intricate exploration of death – not death alone, but the mystery that surrounds the experience...The title poem...suggests a belief in unseen forces, be they supernatural or imaginative; because of these, an ordinary life is significant beyond death. This idea also informs several of the book’s excellent translations and adaptations. In all, The Monk’s Dream is a finely weighted and balanced work of elegy.’  Richard Tyrell, TLS

‘His whole collection represents a struggle with a conundrum with mortality...At the centre is the sonnet sequence about his father’s death, ‘The Frame of Furnace Light’. It is an extraordinary piece of writing... Harpur represents his father with such clarity and sympathy as to render his gradual decline almost unbearable.’  Maggie O’Farrell, Poetry Review 

‘Harpur’s work is grounded in a firm awareness of the ‘sensate life’...but whether in an unnamed monk’s prophetic dream of the death of William II, in Enkidu’s dying dream of the underworld, or in the spiritual apprehensions which characterise the more directly personal poems, there is everywhere a sense of what lies beyond the limitations of the merely sensate. Harpur is a serious and intelligent poet who deserves to find many readers.’  Glyn Pursglove, Acumen 

‘Sure-footed and accessible, with the occasional touch of that rarest of qualities, pure insight.’ Glyn Holden, Ambit



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  The Gospel of Joseph of Arimathea

‘James Harpur uses the legend of Joseph of Arimathea's voyage to Britain's shores with the young Jesus as the prompt for Joseph to search out those who were closest to Jesus in his final years. As he continues to travel around on business, Joseph describes each meeting in prose, and then the person he is visiting tells of his/her time with Jesus in hauntingly beautiful poetry. The words play on your imagination till you can see the scene that they are describing. I found I had to read it to myself as if I was reading aloud, and then go back to the beginning and read it through again and again.’ 

Mary Bartholomew Good Book Stall




A Vision of Comets

 Mandalas, heavenly bodies, Greek mythology, temples and cathedrals give James Harpur’s first collection a sense of the sacred running in parallel to the quotidian, and while the poems often reach into the exotic or esoteric, they are nevertheless accurately and cleanly made observances of a world the senses have access to. 
Poetry Ireland Review

 Harpur is just how I like poets – skilled, erudite, in love with language, and with proper humility.  Stride 

 Harpur’s tunes are chiefly lyrical ... the ‘welter of accumulated memories’is skilfully caught.  Independent on Sunday 

 It is in his poems on religious themes that the poet comes into his own, skillfully using a fluid free verse in the monologues ‘Samson to his Maker’ and ‘Messiah’ and creating a frieze of great charm in ‘The Magi’Poetry Wales

 Harpur’s sensibility is attuned to love, time, myth, the numinous – the makings of poetry...my opinion warmed as I read ... Harpur has an imaginative wonder.  London Magazine

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Fortune’s Prisoner: The Poems of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy 

Imprisoned by Theodoric, the Ostrogothic king of Italy, and facing the possibility of execution, the Roman statesman and philosopher Boethius (c. 480-524) wrote his famous Consolation of Philosophy, a work that combines prose with verse.  

‘With a poet’s flair, James Harpur has rendered the Consolation’s poems in a fresh, modern translation as a sequence in their own right. From the prisoner’s initial despairing dirge, to Philosophy’s final plea for people to recognize their divine nature, the poems explore classic themes such as the character of Fortune, free will, the problem of evil and the nature of justice.  
‘For poetry lovers, Classicists and Boethius enthusiasts alike, this is a book that takes the reader on journey into the mind and soul of one of the most profound and influential of Roman writers.’ 

‘Boethius’s deeply intricate thought is here distilled into beautiful aperçus .... as a dream dreamt in a cell of nightmare, it should inspire everyone.’  Murrough O’Brien, Independent on Sunday

'Harpur has done a fine job in presenting his subject in a fresh and original way.' Rory Brennan, Books Ireland

'Harpur makes exquisite music out of this material ... He has made true poems in our vernacular, but the language, or clusters of images and persons, does create an alternative, complete world. It is fine work.'  Thomas McCarthy, Southword


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