“An incredibly well executed epic saga in a poetry format, To The House Of The Sun is complex, with manifold characters, plot developments, and internal rhythms. Simply stated, To The House of the Sun is a literary phenomenon on a scale with the Iliad or the Odyssey.” — Midwest Book Review
To the House of the Sun
by Tim Miller
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To the House of the Sun (long poem)
An incredibly well executed epic saga in a poetry format, To The House Of The Sun is complex, with manifold characters, plot developments, and internal rhythms. Simply stated, To The House Of The Sun is a literary phenomenon on a scale with the Iliad or the Odyssey. A critical success, To The House Of The Sun is especially appropriate for academic library Literary Studies and Poetry Studies reference collections and supplemental studies reading lists. —Midwest Book Review
Tim Miller has joined a select group of quirky poets who feel called to contend with a neglected form, the book-length narrative poem, and what he does with it is brilliant. […]
To the House of the Sun evokes millennia of faith, storytelling, and scholarship simply by committing to its orthography: from its first lines, it looks like the typed-up notes of a young scholar seized by inspiration as he transcribes and translates a cryptic inscription. Look closer, though, to see the designs of a careful poet: these lines mark where the singer’s words intersect time; alliteration evokes a sense of place (“the sands of Savannah facing the sea”); and psalmic repetition gives them incantatory power, affirming poetry’s roots in enchantment. This could be Gilgamesh, King David, or Hildegard of Bingen, and Miller honors that ageless mysticism here. To the House of the Sun sounds and feels like an ancient text, layered with fragments of sources and traditions, a pastiche that takes familiar poems and scriptures and stories and weaves them into something inspiring and fresh. […]
Clearly this isn’t the Civil War of TV movies or weekend reenactors or even poignant Ken Burns fiddle-whispers. What Conrad sees is overwhelming: Miller wants to humble you with the unfathomable number of lives affected by the war. There are so many stories here—sometimes rendered in just a few words or a handful of lines—about tortured black men, murdered prisoners, doomed soldiers seeking solace in prostitutes, mothers in mourning, baffled ghosts, even a priest who can summon water from the earth. For all I know, Miller’s approach may be unprecedented in Civil War fiction. There are no stock characters or cartoon souls; everyone gets a distinctive few lines, a defining moment, an acknowledgement of their fleeting humanity set against the infinite. […]
As To the House of the Sun progresses, the smoke and blood of the Civil War recede, giving way to a series of dizzying visions, a revelation that blurs Blake, Eliot, the Bhagavad-Gita, Celtic myth, and a whirlwind of mystical traditions into a statement about the place of each of us in the divine. But as trippy and transcendent as his poem can be, Miller doesn’t want it to be obscure. […]
I can’t write a proper review of To the House of the Sun. Dear reader, you already know if you’re inclined to relish a 33-book epic set during the Civil War, inspired by the world’s great religious and literary texts, and offering prophetic glimpses of the divine. I loved it, not only because it’s proudly noncommercial and defies everything that’s trendy right now in entertainment, poetry, and the culture at large, but also because it offers a hard, humane vision that tries to disturb and inspire you into wanting to be better than you are. Reading and writing are not, by themselves, moral acts, and we often ascribe more virtue to them than they deserve, but To the House of the Sun is proof that a lifetime of the right kind of reading really can lead to enlightenment—and sometimes, a genuine act of creation.” —Jeff Sypeck (read the full review here)
To the House of the Sun ranks among both the most curious and the most ambitious literary products to come out of Pittsburgh this year. The 360-page epic poem set during the Civil War is both strikingly original and, by author Miller’s enthusiastic acknowledgement, grandly derivative.
It’s the story of a young man named Conrad, Irish-born son of a slaveholding Savannah, Ga., clan, who in 1862 strikes out on what becomes a cross-country quest of sorts. As it begins, with the Civil War in full swing around him, he’s nominally in search of his long-gone father, to fulfill a promise he made his recently deceased mother. One complication is that Conrad is bereft at the death of his fiancée, who was killed by that same father.
The narrative is stream-of-consciousness, picaresque, told through Conrad’s eyes as he heads first north, as far as New Jersey, then cuts across the Midwest to California. The language is lush, sometimes metaphysical, in free but incantatory verse. Early sections grapple with destiny, slavery, grief, rage and the lure of the sea. “& the new recruits are all confidence,” Miller writes, describing Conrad watching soldiers shipping out, “& even if some of them know they’ll never again behold mother or sister or land, they turn away with fugitive grins to wait intently for the train, & some great glory.”
A key distinction of this fat and fascinating paperback is that its final 260 pages are all appendices and footnotes in which Miller obsessively documents the sources and inspirations he drew upon for ideas, images and phrases in his text, from the epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible to Irish folklore, Civil War diaries and the poetry of Wallace Stevens. Yet while To the House of the Sun is quite accessible, and wholly its own work, it is dense and sophisticated enough to be worthy of its copious source materials. —Pittsburgh City Paper (review also available here)
An “impressive and monumental work.” —Ronald Schuchard, Professor of English Emeritus, Emory University, and General Editor of the Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot
A book like this is absolutely unprecedented in our time. Like the Iliad, it uses poetry, solemnly and beautifully, to capture the most tragic era in American history, the Civil War. There is an exquisite, terrible and very human beauty woven throughout all its pages. We walk with Orpheus, with Odysseus, with Dante in the Inferno of soul-immolating tragedy, in the immortal search for spiritual meaning in world that often drifts toward nightmare—yet the poetry, the paradoxical seal of immortality redeems us all. This is a redemptive book. Read it thoroughly and well, and your life will be ennobled and enriched. —Stephen Larsen, co-author of A Fire in the Mind: The Life of Joseph Campbell, and director of the Stone Mountain Center
As the product of a union between a minister and an elementary school teacher, my childhood was steeped in ancient literature – everything from Bible stories to European myths and African folk tales. Add to that my teenage fascination with medieval English literature and my resulting foundation in classic texts made it possible for me to appreciate the massive scope of Tim Miller’s research for To the House of the Sun, a novel-in-verse set in America’s Civil War era.
Miller’s book-length poem opens with Conrad mourning the murder of his wife at the hands of his father. The image-rich language flows easily as he decides to walk away from Savannah, all but shaking the dust off his proverbial sandals when he leaves. Miller’s poetics twist around the mind like his character winds around the South, allowing the reader to experience visceral textures of language and perspective…
And just as the Bible opens with straightforward narrative and ends with surreal images too fantastic for the mind to absorb, so does Miller’s tale. As Conrad continues wandering across the whole of the continent, he first encounters the divine, then absorbs it so fully that he radiates it–like the biblical Moses whose face shone in blinding fashion after a mountain-top conversation with God. Once this transformation takes place, Miller’s language transforms as well into a driving expository force…
To the House of the Sun will take you on a journey from the south to the west, from the sea to the sky, all the while peeling flesh off spirit until all that’s left is the echo of one man’s imagination. —Small Press Book Review
Click here to listen to and download readings from the book.
ABOUT THE BOOK
To the House of the Sun, a long narrative poem in thirty-three books, culminates with a young man’s experience of illumination in the summer of 1865, ascending into the air above California. It begins a few years earlier, on a beach in Savannah, as he broods over the death of his fiancée and the war just beginning to tear the United States apart.
In between, we journey with him through a panorama of America at war: from Georgia through the Deep South, he meets escaped and freed slaves, families facing hardship, and soldiers from the recent battles. In the North, he befriends a weary Walt Whitman, and together they tend to the wounded in Washington, before he leaves the poet and briefly joins the Union Army. After this, he walks West, shedding any identity he may have once had—as an immigrant Irishman, a Catholic, a Southerner, a son—so that what began as an epic of history has slowly become something like a new sutra or gospel, the hagiography of some strange man who appears in the American West teaching, healing, and even raising the dead.
More than a decade in the writing, To the House of the Sun is consciously dependent upon the sacred literature and poetry our own culture is heir to, and following the poem is a generous selection of notes detailing these borrowings, which itself constitutes an anthology of sacred literature and folklore. Built as it is upon the great inherited tradition of history and religion, in the end the entirety of the poem becomes one of those very stories itself, as well as a song of suffering and love, and finally of empathy.