Views on the Duality of Self and Body in the Poetry of Ellen Hinsey and Works of Hannah Arendt

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The intangible self-possess a body and is so closely conjoined with its body that it forms a union with it. The relation between self and body is unlike the relationship between a pilot and his vessel. If one were in one’s body like a pilot in a vessel one would not feel pain when one’s body is hurt. Nevertheless, the fact remains that each of us is distinct from his or her body. The self is a thinking and unextended feeling. The self and the bodywork together to become one and experience feeling. They work in a duality that helps oneself to understand the world around them. The duality is what makes life interesting and meaningful for all of mankind.

The self is an important part of our lives because it allows us to see ourselves as separate. Ellen Hinsey explores how the partnership of the self and body work together to reach and experience the divine. The White Fire of Time, a controlling theme of the self and the body is explored through the usage of figurative language, imagery, and symbolic characterization. These formal techniques live through biblical scenarios within Hinsey’s work which helps her audience clearly understand how the duality of the self and body connects with the divine, which matters for the overall experience of the poetry because it grounds Hinsey’s mystical approach to Judaism.

Hinsey transforms familiar religious tales such as the story of Cain and Abel and freshens them into a pertinent scenario that illustrates the duality of self and body. Specifically, in “Commentary. On the Story of Cain and Abel” Hinsey effectively uses the characterization of the biblical figure of Cain to represent the duality of the self and the body in action. Hinsey vividly describes the incident through metaphor and extrasensory imagery to successfully convey how the duality of the self and the mind kept Cain from the divine and at the same time provided him with the opportunity to achieve it. Traditionally, the tale of Cain and Abel has signified that allowing sin to take control has destructive consequences, Hinsey maintains this message however she shifts the attention to how the self and body led Cain to sin murder.

After Cain kills his brother Hinsey begins to describe how the duality of self and body within Cain was responsible for his sin, “But thought, not body, is sin—opposes similitude: The mind, directed by the cell’s division, turns in its frailty, And the fragile atom of impulse (Hinsey 44)” Through this descriptive diction it is clear that the body and the self-work in a partnership, in this case, the self which is described as the ‘thought’ is responsible for the sin and the body as a consequence falls victim to it. As a result, Cain is condemned by God to become a wanderer, however, the self and the body also serve as an opportunity for Cain to obtain the divine. God tells Abel that until his mind mends itself from his rendered dissimilitude, he will be fugitive and a wander on earth.

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Another well known biblical story that Hinsey includes in her collection is the tale of Adam and Eve, in “Reading, In Wondrous Praise of the Beloved (Eve in the Garden)” she focuses on Eve and takes on a different perspective which is evident through the usage of imagery, personification, and symbolism. Traditionally, Eve is known for committing the original sin and her story symbolizes good and evil however instead of focusing on her sin and adapting to Eve’s original story Hinsey focuses on how Eve’s body is connected with nature and the divine. Hinsey begins to explore through physical senses how Eve’s self and bodywork in partnership with nature to reach the divine. Eve’s anatomy is individually portrayed to have a divine relationship with nature, every inch of Eve’s body makes up the garden. Through sensory imagery, it is clear that Eve holds a divine partnership with the nature surrounding her. Eve’s connection with the garden is first depicted as, “You, my beloved, are all of the earth’s wonders: Your pulse flicker of watered sunlight. (Hinsey 55)” “And your breasts fragrant as opened summer grain; Your thumb’s print the cosmos and the world— (Hinsey 55)” Through the sense of smell, sight, and sound Hinsey brings to life the duality of Eve’s body and its relationship with nature.

Similarly, Hannah Ardent describes the bond between the human condition and earth in The Human Condition. In Arendt’s The Human Condition, she states that the Vita Activa is the most important and she portrays that through sectioning off her work in three parts: The Human Condition, The Public and Private Realm, Labor. Hinsey also sections her collection of poems into three parts: The World, The Temple, The Celestial Ladder. Parallel to Hinsey’s connection between nature and Eve, Arendt recognizes that the earth is significant to the human condition in that she believes that there is an intimate relationship between the earth and humans. Arendt refutes viewing one’s body as a prison of mind by relating it to earth not being viewed as a prison for men’s bodies, she argues, “The earth is the very quintessence of the human condition, and earthly nature, for all we know, may be unique in the universe in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe. (Arendt 2)” Both Hinsey and Arendt recognize the partnership that exists between both the self and nature and that both serve each other.

Additionally, Hinsey achieves mystic Judaism through the reversal of the garden of Eden story through imagery and synecdoche in “Reading, In Wondrous Praise of the Beloved (Eve in the Garden)” By using these formal devices Hinsey emphasizes on the spiritual approach to Judaism that is apparent throughout the collection. The standard version of the story of the garden of Eden holds “good and evil” elements that significant in Judaism. In the “Encyclopedia Judaica: Good & Evil’ it is stated in Talmudic Literature that both good and evil derives from evil and that evil inclination is a necessary factor for the continued existence of the world. These beliefs mirror the scenario in Eve in the garden poem, without the sins of Eve she would not have institute nature, as described by Hinsey.

Eve serves to portray the belief that both good and evil derive in God in that although she committed the original sin there is still good, we see this in the usage of synecdoche. Hinsey repeats ‘For the time is still luminous (Hinsey 55,56)’ which indicating that the future holds positivity. Despite Eves sin good is still forthcoming which sustains the belief in Talmud Literature that evil is necessary, ‘The evil inclination is a necessary factor in the continued existence of the world, for without it no man would build a house, marry, raise a family, or engage in trade (Gen. R. 9:9) (Encyclopedia Judaica)” Hinsey maintains these traditional Judaic beliefs through her usage of mystic imagery which helps her ground mystic Judaism.

The duality of the self and body is a constant theme in Hinsey’s poems that is strategically constructed through the usage of figurative language, symbolic characterization, and imagery. By utilizing these formal devices Hinsey is able to express the connection between the self and body and divinity which helps her clearly depict mystic Judaism. The form that makes up The White Fire of Time is what ultimately helps Hinsey present Judaic beliefs in a mystical manner and allows the reader to experience Judaism in a mystical way. The duality of the self and body not only emphasizes the loss of individuality that mysticism aims to achieve but it also clearly illustrates the unity it carries with the divine.

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