We are told in Genesis that the creation of the earth occurred through speech. Generating a series of finer and finer distinctions through the spoken word, a brooding spirit bodied forth the teeming diversity of nature, human life included. We do well to imagine Berry the poet in these terms, for his is the brooding spirit who crafts life into art through speech. “What we have said, ” he writes in “From the Crest” (1977), “becomes an earth we live on” (C, 46). Certainly, the finest of his poetry shares with the creative spirit in Genesis the particularizing eye that brings description to life. In prose, the poet in Berry identifies himself through his criticism of language and literary art, but throughout his fiction and poetry he distributes incarnations of this poetic self that reflect the artistic values he embraces in prose. The body of Berry's work records his maturation from a poet searching for a voice to an established public figure using his poetic voice to speak to larger issues. His maturation, then, corresponds to a movement through two stages of autobiography as the poet moves beyond a self-conscious preoccupation with finding a voice into the refinement and appropriation of his poetic voice for other concerns besides poetry-making.
In 1969, nine years after his two-year stint at Stanford University, five years after the publication of his first volume of poetry, The Broken Ground, and four years after his return to Kentucky for good to live and farm, Berry's essay “The Long-Legged House” grows from his autobiographical impulse to capture in text the significant events and choices that have returned him to his native ground. The essay registers a pause in which Berry takes account of his life. Part of the accounting involves documenting the major movements in, and influences on, his consciousness as a poet. Focusing on the summer of 1957, the summer of his marriage and a full year before going to California as a Stegner fel