Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney decided to proceed with a complete "rendering" of Virgil's Aeneid VI in 2007 - part of the Latin epic -after completing poems written on the birth of his first grand-daughter.
The Guardian newspaper carries the poet's introduction to the forthcoming translation, due from Faber & Faber in March.
"This translation of Aeneid VI is neither a “version” nor a crib: it is more like classics homework, the result of a lifelong desire to honour the memory of my Latin teacher at St Columb’s College, Father Michael McGlinchey," writes Heaney.
"The set text for our A-level exam in 1957 was Aeneid IX but McGlinchey was forever sighing, “Och, boys, I wish it were Book VI.” Over the years, therefore, I gravitated towards that part of the poem and took special note of it after my father died, since the story it tells is that of Aeneas’s journey to meet the shade of his father Anchises in the land of the dead."
He decided to render the complete book in 2007, after finishing poems written to welcome his first granddaughter, Anna-Rose, who was born to his son Christopher and his wife Jenny in 2006.
Heaney, who passed away in 2013, also acknowledges that the lengthy list of of army generals and imperial heroes which features at one point in the narrative is `something of a test for reader, and translator, alike.'
"But for the sake of the little one whose “earthlight broke” in late 2006, and the one who sighed for his favourite Virgil in that 1950s classroom, it had to be gone through with."
An extract from Aeneid VI already featured in Heaney's last book of poems, Human Chain, which was published in 2010.
Aeneas's journey to the underworld becomes conflated with the young poet's trip to Belfast as a young man on the 110 bus. On arrival in the city, he bought his first copy of Virgil's poetry in a second-hand market. The old man who tells him which bus to get to Belfast becomes Charon, the mythical ferryman.