Blind Men and the Elephant

(by John Godfrey Saxe)

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The Blind Men and the Elephant

American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) based this poem on a fable that was told in India many years ago. It is a good warning about how our sensory perceptions can lead to some serious misinterpretations; especially, when the investigations of the component parts of a whole, and their relations in making up the whole, are inadequate and lack co-ordination.

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Six blindmen touching an elephant.

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It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind


The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

"God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!"

The first blind man of six blind men feels the side of the elephant and interprets it as a wall.

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The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, "Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me 'tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!"

The second blind man of the six blind men feels an elephant tusk and interprets the elephant to be like a spear.

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The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a snake!"

The third blind man of the six blind men touches the elephant's trunk and interprets it to be a snake.

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The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee.

"What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain," quoth he;

" 'Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!"

The fourth blind man of the six blind men touches the elephant's leg and mentally visualizes it to be a tree.

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The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: "E'en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!"

The fifth blind man of the six blind men touches the elephant's ear and imagines it to be a fan.

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The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a rope!"

The sixth blind man of the six blind men touches the elephant's ear and interprets it to be a fan.

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And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!


Moral:

So oft in theologic wars,

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

The elephant composition as the blindmen described it.

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There is an additional presentation of "The Blind Men and the Elephant" available with better illustrations

A new and improved version of The Blind Men and the Elephant can be examined in its trimmed, or cropped, image examples; that is, if you are interested in using the illustrations for a special presentation.

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