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The Spirit Is Too Blunt An Instrument Analysis

Summary and Analysis of The Spirit Is Too Blunt An Instrument by Anne Stevenson

 The Spirit Is Too Blunt An Instrument by Anne Stevenson gives expression to the speaker’s amazement at the complexities and the creation of the human body and that a spirit can never be able to create something as beautiful as a newborn baby. The poem was published in 1969 in Anne Stevenson’s “Collection Reversals”. This is a three-stanza poem written in free verse and does not contain any metrical pattern. The poem explores the theme of life and creation and the beauty of the human body. 

The Spirit Is Too Blunt An Instrument | Summary and Analysis

Stanza I

The spirit is too blunt an instrument

to have made this baby.

Nothing so unskilful as human passions

could have managed the intricate

exacting particulars: the tiny

blind bones with their manipulating tendons,

the knee and the knucklebones, the resilient

fine meshings of ganglia and vertebrae,

the chain of the difficult spine.

The spirit cannot create something as beautiful as a baby. Human passions are unskilful and incapable of creating a human being with such exact specifications. The last lines show the complex nature of a baby’s body by describing its physical features, the bones, the tendons that make the knee and knucklebones, and the nerves and vertebrae that form the complex spine.

The first line forms the title of the poem and the first stanza explains how a spirit can never create something as intricate and complex as a human baby. The speaker shows the incapability of human passion and the marvellous intricacies of a newborn baby.

Stanza II

Observe the distinct eyelashes and sharp crescent

fingernails, the shell-like complexity

of the ear, with its firm involutions

concentric in miniature to minute

ossicles. Imagine the

infinitesimal capillaries, the flawless connections

of the lungs, the invisible neural filaments

through which the completed body

already answers to the brain.

The narrator observes the distinct eyelashes and perfectly shaped fingernails, the narrator compares the ears to the complex concentric patterns of a shell and talks about the internal structure of the ear talking about ossicles. The narrator shows how the internal parts which are completely formed now respond to the brain and function properly.

The narrator admires the baby’s eyelashes and nails and gives a brief explanation of the internal parts of the body, the ear ossicles, the capillaries, the flawless construction of lungs, and the perfect working neurons that help the body answer the brain. All these show how a baby is a completely formed and perfectly functioning body that responds to the brain – hinting at the idea that a spirit doesn’t create a body.

Stanza III

Then name any passion or sentiment

possessed of the simplest accuracy.

No, no desire or affection could have done

with practice what habit

has done perfectly, indifferently,

through the body’s ignorant precision.

It is left to the vagaries of the mind to invent

love and despair and anxiety

and their pain.

This stanza illustrates that no accurate passion or sentiment can create a perfect human body. It is nature that can effortlessly produce such complex and beautiful creations. No desire or affection can do what habit has done. The baby is born but unaware of human feelings and now will surrender itself to the mind which governs feelings of love, despair, anxiety, and pain. 

It’s the habit that creates this being with the perfection that the spirit is incapable of. No human desire and affection can create what habit can that too with perfection. The habit is done with its responsibility once the body is created. The baby is born with perfect physical features and is ignorant of human feelings. The baby will not act as its mind directs it to. It is left to the obligation of the mind to develop emotional feelings. 

The Spirit Is Too Blunt An Instrument | Analysis

The speaker compares the human soul to a “blunt” tool. An unsharpened tool that she feels cannot create something perfect, and magnificent like a complex human body. The speaker is amazed by the perfect and carefully crafted child.

The speaker feels human desire and passion are not capable enough to create the baby. Throughout the poem, the speaker talks about how flawlessly the body parts are created, from spinal bones to tiny ligaments and muscles to neurons, perfect eyelashes, ears like complex shells, and fingernails like a sharp crescent moon. But the body later gives to feelings and emotions controlled by the mind and it later responds to the brain’s instructions. 

The poem shows it is the nature of the biological process that has been creating humans for years and a soul can never create such intricate perfection. The speaker’s wonder and admiration for a newborn baby are evident in the poem. The speaker feels the body is not the creation of passion but is kind of a miracle. 

The poem gives the reader an imagination, a loving picture of a mother holding her child and is amazed by the beautiful creation. She wonders how passion can create such a perfect human body. The speaker goes on to analyze all of the body parts, comparing them with the complexity of sea shells, and the beauty of the crescent moon and the poem ends with the powerful word “pain”. 

The Spirit Is Too Blunt An Instrument Themes

Creation of Life – The speaker emphasizes the beauty of something as complex as the human body. The poem explores the intricate process and the tiny details that take to create a newborn baby. The narrator represents the human body as something impossible for passion and sentiment to create. The process of creation of life is nature and its habit’s extraordinary skills and how the habit later leaves it to the mind to expose the body to emotional perceptions and feelings such as love, hate, anxiety, and pain. 

A spirit has nothing to do with the creation of a body but with rather the habit that creates something so admirable. 

A perfect body and a chaotic spirit – The speaker is amazed by the perfect creation of the human body, a newborn baby. The speaker explains every detail of the body and how it has been perfectly crafted by habit and not spirit. The body is perfectly crafted by years of the same process that is unnoticed but exists. The speaker explains how desires and passions are unreliable and inaccurate. The body is a perfect creation but feelings and emotions are uncertain and mysterious. The speaker celebrates the beauty of the human body praising its perfection and mistrusts the spirit, desires, and passions clumsy and finds them clumsy. The speaker feels them to be too blunt to be capable of creating life. They lack the skill and precision to perfectly craft a human body. 

The Spirit Is Too Blunt An Instrument | Poetic Devices

The poet uses metaphor in the poem when she compares the soul to a “blunt” tool and considers it incapable of creating life. The speaker believes passion and desire play no role in crafting a human body but it is the habit of nature that does the work. Human emotions can never create such complex and detailed beings. Nature crafts a perfect body with intricate details. The fingernails are compared to “sharp crescents” which means the crescent-shaped moon, and the complex structure of ears is compared to the complex shell-like structure. 

Alliteration is used in the poem evident in lines such as “blind bones…”, ” the knee and the knucklebones..”, and “miniature to minute..”. Imagery is shown using the lines in the second stanza when the speaker talks about eyelashes and fingernails, “Observe the distinct eyelashes and sharp crescent fingernails, the shell-like complexity of the ear,”

Enjambment is shown in the fourth and fifth lines of the first stanza where the line is cut off. 

The Spirit Is Too Blunt An Instrument | Structure and form

“The Spirit Is Too Blunt an Instrument” is a three-stanza poem that consists of 3 sets, each with 9 lines in free verse and no rhyming scheme. 

Each stanza provides the readers with a different idea. The poem does not use a regular form that makes the poem look natural and conversational even if the speaker is explaining the complex human body using scientific terms. 

The poem does not use any meter as it is written in free verse and this keeps the language natural. And there is no rhyme scheme which gives the poem a serious, contemplative tone. 

About the Author

Anne Stevenson(1933-2020) was born to American parents in England. She wanted to be a professional musician and attended the University of Michigan but with her hearing loss, she resorted to writing. Her teacher, Donald Hall, an American poet advised her to write poetry and that encouraged her to have a professional career in writing. Eight collections of her poems have been published by OUP from 1974-1986 and three of her other books were published in 2000 by Bloodaxe Books. 

Stevenson’s writings are mostly influenced by Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop. She is also famous for writing the autobiography about Sylvia Plath named “Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath” and Elizabeth Bishop. Her poetry mostly included free verse and her poetry was influenced by John Keats, John Donne, and Robert Frost. 

Domestic life did not make her happy and she chose divorce to pursue her career as a poet because she did not want to end up like her mother who sacrificed her ambitions for her family.






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