1st April 2021
A Poetic Exploration of the Book of Kells
This paper is now available to read on our Online Lecture Papers page.
In 1999 James Harpur was commissioned to write a poem about the Book of Kells, Ireland’s greatest medieval illuminated manuscript, and found inspiration in a number of different sources, including Plotinus, Rilke, Abbot Suger, Paul Klee and Bernard of Clairvaux. He expressed his poem through a number of voices, including those of an anonymous illuminator, a scribe, and the churchman Gerald of Wales; and various themes evolved, twisting and circling throughout the poem like the decorative scrollwork of the Kells illuminations, including the nature of pilgrimage, the idea of ‘home’, and the aesthetics of sacred art. This illustrated essay describes his poetic exploration of Book of the Kells, as well as some of the processes of his own artistic creation.
James Harpur’s latest book of poetry is The White Silhouette (2018), which includes his poem ‘Kells’. A new book, The Oratory of Light, featuring poems inspired by St Columba, is due to be published by Wild Goose Press in June 2021.