The Spirit Is Too Blunt an Instrument Poem by Anne Stevenson Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


Anne Stevenson’s “The Spirit is too Blunt an Instrument” explores the difficult process of conceiving a new life and how the spirit is unable to accomplish it. The speaker highlights throughout the poem how extraordinarily complex a human kid is and how flawlessly the process must proceed for every tendon and sinew to do its function. She is aware that her creative capacity stems from an uninformed “habit” rather than the spirit. She suggests that there could be no emotional passion at fault.

About the poet

Renowned American-British poet and writer Anne Stevenson (1933–2020) is known for her lyrical style, perceptive examination of universal and personal topics, and lasting contribution to English-language literature. She wrote more than a dozen volumes of poetry, some of which explored more general subjects like time, death, and the complexity of experience, while others concentrated on more intimate emotions. Stevenson is regarded as a prominent personality in modern poetry, her distinct style, technical mastery, and deep understanding of the human condition won her accolades.


Anne Stevenson’s poem “The Spirit is too Blunt an Instrument” is divided into three stanzas, each with nine lines. Because these stanzas are written in free verse, the poem lacks a set rhyme scheme and metrical structure. 


Stanza 1

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 speaker uses the sentence that would eventually become the title in the opening verse of “The Spirit is too Blunt an Instrument.” She suggests that the “spirit” could not have “made this baby” by drawing a connection between the first and second lines. The child’s specifics are too “intricate” to have been created with such an imprecise tool. It is too “unskilful” and zealous to concentrate on something this significant and intricate. By exploring the complexities of a child, the speaker attempts to support her thesis in the following lines. She talks of their “ganglia and vertebrae” and “manipulating tendons.” For the task to be completed properly, each component must be expertly designed. 

Stanza 2

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 speaker of “The Spirit is too Blunt an Instrument” encourages the reader to pause and study the child’s exquisitely manicured fingernails and eyelashes in the second verse. Their ears have the concentric patterns of a seashell, giving them a “shell-like” appearance. These lines contain instances of alliteration with the words “miniature” and “minute.” The fifth line’s enjambment forces the reader to scroll down to the following line to see what happens next. The child’s body has several sections that are invisible to the naked eye; one must “imagine” these parts. With a “completed body” that “already answers to the brain,” the infant emerges. 

Stanza 3

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.

The speaker reiterates her earlier claim that the spirit, which is driven by emotion, can make a child in the final line of “The Spirit is too Blunt an Instrument.” No, she continues, this simply isn’t possible. The “habit” and impulse that gives birth to a new life is what makes it ideal. The body, however, lacks the conflicting passions and is “ignorant” of the complications that prevent the “spirit” from ever accomplishing such a task. The speaker continues in the final words, stating that the “mind” is the source of the passions that direct people’s behavior. There, one invents love, anxiety, and other concepts.


In “The Spirit is Too Blunt an Instrument,” by Anne Stevenson, the speaker questions the spirit’s involvement in birthing while confronting the complex marvel of labor. The powerful opening line of the poem is “The spirit is too blunt an instrument to have made this baby.”

Stevenson highlights the body’s careful engineering, rejecting the idea that creation was inspired by passionate feelings. In describing the baby’s “fine meshings of ganglia and vertebrae,” she emphasizes how well-functioning the intricate systems are. The spirit’s “vague emotions and abstract thoughts” don’t seem to be able to capture these minute details.

The poem implies that the procedure isn’t planned, which further undercuts the spirit’s involvement. Instead of being designed consciously, the body functions “out of mere habit,” propelled by “ignorant precision”. This apathy highlights the amazing effectiveness of nature’s systems, which function without difficulty while creating “miracles.” The poetry doesn’t completely discount the spirit, either. The baby’s “vague, astonished eyes,” the speaker concedes, are an indication of consciousness, of a uniqueness that goes beyond biology. The form was made by the body, yet the “spirit may set its flickering light there.”

The last sentence alludes to a subtly harmonious relationship between the material and the immaterial. The kid is more than just a sophisticated biological machine since the spirit gives the body the intangible aspects of life, while the body serves as the framework.

“The Spirit is Too Blunt an Instrument” ultimately questions our idealistic conceptions of creation. It presents a distinctive viewpoint on motherhood, both questioning the source of its wonder and enjoying the amazing experience. The poem prompts us to reflect on the relationship between the material and spiritual realms, the complex workings of the human body, and the fluttering spark of the human spirit.