The Five Quintets is both poetry and cultural history. It offers a sustained reflection on modernity—people and movements—in poetic meter. Just as Dante, in his Divine Comedy, summed up the Middle Ages on the cusp of modernity, The Five Quintets takes stock of a late modern world on the cusp of the first-ever global century.
Celebrated Irish poet Micheal O’Siadhail structures his Quintets to echo the Comedy. Where Dante had a tripartite structure ( Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), O’Siadhail has a five-part structure, with each quintet devoted to a discipline—the arts; economics; politics; science; and philosophy and theology. Each quintet is also marked by a different form: sonnets interspersed by haikus ("saikus"), iambic pentameter, terza rima, and two other invented forms.
The Five Quintets captivates even as it instructs, exploring the ever-changing flow of ideas and the individuals whose contributions elicited change and reflected their times. The artists, economists, politicians, scientists, and philosophers O’Siadhail features lived complex lives, often full of contradictions. Others, though deeply rooted in their context, transcended their time and place and pointed beyond themselves—even to us and to a time after modernity’s reign.
The ancient Horace commended literature that delivered "profit with delight." In The Five Quintets, Micheal O’Siadhail has done just that: he delights us in the present with his artistry, even as he reveals hidden treasures of our past and compels us toward the future.
In The Five Quintets, Micheal O’Siadhail takes us on an exhilarating journey through four centuries of modern thought and sensibility. This is an extraordinarily ambitious project, but it is richly realized. If the sweep of O’Siadhail’s interests is epic, the insights afforded into the achievements of some of the period’s greatest literary and artistic figures reflect a deeply personal engagement. Moving effortlessly across several literatures and cultures, he embarks on an absorbing personal odyssey.~David Donoghue, Ambassador and Former Permanent Representative of Ireland at the United Nations and Co-Chair of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda
With astonishing depth, breadth, and creative range, O’Siadhail interweaves paradox and contradiction across the centuries, conversing with history’s greatest minds and evolutionary agents. This masterwork delivers a layered feast of wisdom and insight to inspire lovers of words, ideas, and action. Historians, politicians, artists, theologians, and economists alike will be delighted and nourished by this poetic tour de force.~Jerry White, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and CEO, Global Impact Strategies, Inc.
Micheal O’Siadhail has done nothing less than give us a poetic account of that strange character called ‘modernity.’ He seems to have read everything, but more significantly, he has transformed what he has read through poetic narratives in the manner of Dante. This is a beautiful book of hope because of O’Siadhail’s unrelenting passion to tell us the truth.~Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law
By any standards this is a big book. Poetry on steroids. That last may be pushing it, but O'Siadhail, much published and much admired over many years, has produced a doorstop of a collection that is heavy, in every sense, but enjoyable and challenging.~Fred Johnston, Books Ireland
It’s a giant symphony, with vast sweeping tunes and small lyrical moments, building to a sustained climax. It’s an intellectual, cultural and political history of the modern western world. It’s a portrait gallery with over a hundred sharply etched miniatures -- Cervantes, Donne and Rubens all the way to Kierkegaard, Levinas and Ricoeur; and these are talking portraits, since the poet not only describes them and addresses them but lets them answer him back. It is, above all, a party, with dancing and delight, with the rhythms of the poetry setting our feet tapping and our hearts soaring.~N.T. Wright, Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits
As a composer of choral music, I try to allow the sung and the repeated word to point to new dimensions of awareness, contrition, joy, or grief. These astonishing words in their settings, combinations, repetitions, and choices resonate with my own efforts on a very special, spiritual and different medium, and I welcome and applaud them. They are of international significance.~Paul Mealor, Welsh Composer
A visionary engagement on a breath-taking scale.~Iain R. Torrance, The Expository Times
…Micheal O’Siadhail’s three-hundred-and-fifty-page poem, The Five Quintets, is the most important work of English-language literature to be published so far this century. O’Siadhail’s towering achievement melds reflections on the arts, economics, politics, philosophy and, fascinatingly, science into lyrical verse that transfixes the reader.~Frank Armstrong, Cassandra Voices
An unparalleled book of instruction for a troubled age, The Five Quintets retrieves and exhibits human gifts our own age may have lost, like the power to measure the merely probable or to shape verses whose pulse draws us to love. A book of poetry in the category of the epic, the encyclopedic, and the sacred.~Peter Ochs, Professor of Modern Judaic Studies, University of Virginia
O’Siadhail’s deep, abiding love of words is evident not only in his written verse, but in the spirited way he delivers readings. He winds himself up and draws in breath, as if preparing to sing. Watching him, one feels the force of Robert Pinsky’s observation that ‘we sing all day to one another, when we speak.’~Moriah Specialie, First Things
The Five Quintets is perhaps best described as a mammoth poetic adventure undertaken by the celebrated poet Micheal O’Siadhail, representing the culmination of an extraordinary life’s work. The project is vast in scope. O’Siadhail attempts nothing less than an exploration of the predicaments of Western modernity as they appear in five fields of human endeavor: science, arts, economics, politics, and philosophy, and theology.~Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology, Duke Divinity School
…O’Siadhail offers a tour-de-force reckoning of the times we find ourselves in and the story of how we have arrived here, a sweeping dramatic narrative conveyed in stately formal verse, making it a work of art that defies the tastes of our times and yet is meant for our moment.~Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, America Magazine: Jesuit Review
Not just a collection but a polyglot cultural history and a new cornice stone of civilization, The Five Quintets, the new collection by Irish poet Micheal O’Siadhail, is formidable in its scope and ambition and dazzling in its achievement.~Cahir O’Doherty, Irish Voice
A poetic tour de force.~Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners
Imagine a dream in which the makers and shakers of the modern world appeared, large as life, explaining what they were doing and what it meant: not just artists, musicians, poets, writers, and philosophers, but also scientists, economists, and politicians, all contributing, like the characters in Dante, to pull the world upwards or downwards. Now imagine the whole thing in flowing, vivid verse, arranged in five great sequences each with its own inner coherence and subtle blend of poetic form, climaxing with a gloriously unexpected heavenly conversation between modern saints. O’Siadhail has always invited us to taste the rich abundance of life. Now, in the best traditions of Irish hospitality, he spreads a lavish banquet for the ear, the intellect, and above all for the heart.~N. T. Wright, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews
The Five Quintets unfolds slowly, the steady self-revealing of insights that catch the edge of thought and provoke an arrest of mind—the fruit of a life in languages and words and depth of perception in wisdom.~Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
From its demise emerges the insistent question: ‘What follows?’ O’Siadhail brings a lifetime’s reading and analysis across many disciplines, together with formidable lyrical enthusiasm, an expansive linguistic palette, and a restless imagination, to suggest an answer of philosophical artistry and spiritual grace.~Martyn Halsall, Church Times
Whatever you have planned for next weekend, change it and make space to read this book. Your heart and mind and soul will thank you. This swirling work of love for humanity from Ireland’s most exceptional romantic love poet will take you from the paralysis of our visionless future to a place where ‘every bole and limb begins to dance the universe’s light fantastic prayer.’~Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, 1997–2011
The Five Quintets celebrates how the threads of our culture are woven together across the continents in a grand tradition extending back many centuries. As an astronomer, I resonate specially with a poet who acclaims science alongside humanistic culture. He celebrates the succession of great individuals who have probed the wonders and mysteries of our natural world—and what lies beyond. Nobody else could have created a work like this.~Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, President of the Royal Society (2005–2010), Master of Trinity College Cambridge (2004–2012)
As a scientist I am thrilled at the way The Five Quintets weaves the history and the individuals involved up to the present time into a rich poetic fabric which is remarkable in its depth of understanding, yet leaves the reader with a sense of awe and mystery. The reader is invited to immerse into this world and enjoy the pleasures therein.~John Wood, Scientist, International Research Infrastructure Policy Adviser, and Consultant to CERN
I am in awe of the whole enterprise—the magnitude of it, the daring of it, and the easy competence of it.~Brian Friel, Playwright
O’Siadhail not only immerses us in a fascinating period of history—the past few hundred years up to the present, with its discoveries, traumas, transformations, and artistic creativity—in addition, in musical and beautifully crafted language, he brings history to life through one key person after another and offers matured, prophetic insight for the twenty-first century. The result is daring, moving, and profoundly relevant to anyone seeking personal and public wisdom today.~David Ford, Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge
This is not an ordinary book of poems. It brings a vision of hope, an understanding about the evolution of our society in words of grace. Micheal leads us on to a road of peace.~Jean Vanier, Founder of L’Arche
For those interested in the intersection of poetry and theology, not to mention all general lovers of poetry, one of the major publishing events of recent years must surely be the 2018 publication of Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Five Quintets…~Jake Morely, Transpositions: Theology, Imagination, and the Arts
Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Five Quintets takes the premise of Dante’s Divine Comedy and brings it into the current day. This epic poem is rich in language, complex in meter, but astoundingly modest in rhetoric. As Dante brought us to the circles of Hell, O’Siadhail brings us to the pinnacles of modernity. And as Dante brought out the humanity in characters of myth, O’Siadhail brings us to confront the humanity of the creators of today’s dreams of perfection—scientists, economists, artists all get their due. Somehow he manages to explain how each one’s work may approach perfection, even as he recognizes the humanity, incompleteness, and mortality of them all. It is a great work of humble humanism.~Robert Pollack, Professor of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, and author of The Faith of Biology and the Biology of Faith
Wading boldly into the murky waters of the past and its still swirling, dangerous depths, O’Siadhail offers us an angle of vision for the future that he invites us to create as he also gracefully enacts its unfolding. It is the perfect poetic intervention into the monstrous imperfections and possibilities of the present political moment.~Serene Jones, President Union Theological Seminary
The ambition of this book is staggering and it can be difficult to move past a feeling of awe at O’Siadhail’s capacity to get under the skin of so many of those who have shaped us.~Stephen Plant, The Tablet
The real value of this work is that it delights even as it teaches: ‘A verse may find him who a sermon flies’, as George Herbert advises, and the breadth of learning here is breathtaking yet worn lightly. Above all, the golden thread tying this scholarly work of glinting, jewelled pieces together is the writer’s love of—and considerable skill with—language.~John O’Donnell, Dublin Review of Books
O’Siadhail enchants his poem with the ‘cloud of witnesses’ who have gone before us, and invites readers to reside in a geography that is both lettered and lyrical. Like all great art, The Five Quintets is a demanding work that pays dividends. The ambition and scale of O’Siadhail’s poem is both welcome friend and cunning rival to the literary works I tour with my students each year.~Jeremiah Webster, Presence: A Journal of Catholic Poetry
- Book-of-the-Year Citation from the Conference on Christianity and Literature