Heaney Virgil translation to be published next year

Heaney Virgil translation to be published next year

Faber is to publish a verse translation of Book VI of Virgil's epic poem the Aeneid by the poet Seamus Heaney, which he was still working on at the time of his death in 2013.

The translation had reached "a level of completion that suggested it would not be inappropriate to share with a wider readership," in the opinion of both his editor and his family, the publisher said.

The book is scheduled for UK publication next March: Farrar, Straus and Giroux will publish in the US, while the Dutch independent Bonnefant Press is to produce a limited edition with images by the artist Jan Hendrix.

Heaney, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, wrote many other works of translation including The Testament of Cresseid & Seven Fables, translated from middle Scots; from ancient Greek, The Burial at Thebes; Sophocles' Antigone; Sweeney Astray, translated from Irish; and the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, Heaney's biggest selling book according to Nielsen BookScan records. The paperback of Beowulf, published in the year 2000, has totalled over 100,000 copies.

Faber poetry editor Matthew Hollis said: "It is with deep respect and care that we proceed with publication of Seamus Heaney's translation of Book VI of the Aeneid; respect, because a posthumous publication requires it; care because, at his death, the author was still in a period of reflection. But 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."

Hollis added: "It seems almost miraculous that it is possible to publish a substantial new work by Seamus Heaney now, as if, even after his passing, he were capable of offering his readers a gift. That the gift should be Book VI of the Aeneid only adds to the potence of this remarkable translation."

Book VI of the Aeneid deals with its hero Aeneas's descent into the underworld, carrying a golden bough to convince the ferryman Charon to carry him across the river Acheron, to meet the ghost of his abandoned lover Queen Dido, as well as that of his father Anchises. In his 2008 book of interviews with Dennis O'Driscoll, Stepping Stones, Heaney made clear the importance of the work to his writing, saying: "There's one Virgilian journey that has indeed been a constant presence, and that is Aeneas's venture into the underworld. The motifs in Book VI have been in my head for years – the golden bough, Charon's barge, the quest to meet the shade of his father."

Book VI 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 across decades, and focused upon it in the final years of his life.

Heaney's daughter Catherine Heaney, speaking on behalf of the Heaney family, said: "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.

Heaney sales in the BookScan era total over 400,000, to a total value of £3.8m. Aside from the Beowulf translation, his biggest seller has been New Selected Poems 1966-1987 (63,150 copies sold).