‘The Spirit is too Blunt an Instrument’ by Anne Stevenson is a curious poem that explores the difference between the body and soul. Stevenson is fascinated by the complex science that lays behind human biology, therefore, she feels that the soul is such a simple, crude thing in comparison.
This post gives you an insight into the core ideas of the poem, you can purchase a full study guide below to get a more detailed A* level analysis – including tasks, exercises and essay questions.
- Ganglia – nerve cell structures
- Vertebrae – sections of the spinal column
- Involutions – shrinkage of an organ because of old age or inactivity
- Concentric – having a common center
- Ossicles – small bones in the middle ear responsible for the transmission of sounds from the air to the cochlea
- Knucklebones – bones located in the hands and feet
- Infinitesimal – very small in size, minute
- Neural – concerning the nerves and nervous system
- Indifferently – not caring, especially in a way where someone seems cold and distance
- Precision – being very precise, generally having good attention to detail
- Vagaries – unexpected and unpredictable changes
The spirit is too blunt an instrument to have created this baby. Nothing as primitive as human passions could have conceived such perfection: consequently, bones are in harmony with their tendons, the knee and knucklebones, the strong and yet delicate ganglia and vertebrae, the train of the tough spine.
Behold the clear eyelashes and crescent-shaped fingernails; the ear resembles a shell, made in firm layers connected to tiny ossicles. Think about the millions of capillaries, the impeccable working of the lungs, the indestructible neural filaments through which the whole body connects to the brain.
Tell me of a human impulse that portrays any level of accuracy. No, emotion or affection would properly discern how habits work, though indifferently, through the body’s naive perception. It is left to every state of the mind to find love and distress, and fear and their torment.
The writer emphasises the idea of human frailty, although the human body is at the same time shown to be magnificent and infinitely complex. She seems surprised that the human body is a masterpiece made from an almost effortless process, whereas most humans themselves also seem ignorant of their own inner workings. The speaker sets a pessimistic mood from the onset. Nevertheless, her scepticism about human ability is overshadowed by lines that glorify the magnificence of human beings.
By identifying the human body as a peculiar creation, the poet creates a positive mood successfully, through adjectives such as ‘sentimental’. The speaker seems to lament the ignorance of the human race in failing to recognize the beauty within and around them. Despite the fact that we all have bodies, it seems that the more we think about ourselves in detail and try to deconstruct who we are, the more complex and confusing we become!
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