Monday 19 March 2018

Books: Heaney's gift from beyond the grave...

Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney

John Spain

A new book of poetry by Ireland's Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney will be published next year. The millions of Heaney fans around the world had thought that all of his work had appeared by now, including his last poem, 'Banks of a Canal', which he finished just 10 days before his death in August 2013.

There was huge interest in that and in another of his final poems, 'In Time', which he wrote for his granddaughter, Síofra. Most Heaney lovers thought that was that. So there will be surprise and delight in international literary circles at the news of this new book, a verse translation of Book VI of Virgil's epic poem, 'The Aeneid'.

Heaney had completed the work but was in what his publisher Faber called "a period of reflection" about it when he died. Faber said yesterday that "the typescript that he left behind had, in the view of his editor and his family, reached a level of completion that suggested it would not be inappropriate to share with a wider readership". Book VI of the Aeneid tells the story of ­Aeneas's descent into the underworld, carrying a golden bough to convince the ferryman Charon to carry him across the river Acheron so that he can meet the ghosts of his former lover, Queen Dido, and his father, Anchises.

The story of Book VI of the Aeneid took on a special significance for the poet after the death of his own father in 1986, Faber said, when he first began translating and publishing passages from it. He continued to work on the book in the 20 years that followed, particularly in the final years of his life.

Seamus Heaney's daughter, Catherine, speaking on behalf of the Heaney family, said this week: "Book VI of Virgil's Aeneid was a touchstone for my father, and one to which he would return time and time again throughout his life. This translation is the result of work and revisions carried out by him over many years - from the 1980s to the month before his death - and the decision to publish it was one our family took after long and careful consideration. However, given its theme of Aeneas's search for his father in the afterlife, it would be hard to think of a more poignant way for us to mark the end of our father's own poetic journey."

The book will be published next March.

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