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 coordination.
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 fallAgainst his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we hereSo very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clearThis wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to takeThe squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"
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 Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest manCan tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who canThis marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"
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!"
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!
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!