Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Blind Men and the Elephant

You may remember this rhyme - "The Blind Men and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) - from childhood:
It was 6 men from Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
May satisfy his mind.
The 1st approach'd 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 2nd, 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 3rd 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 4th reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this might beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the elephant
Is very like a tree!"
The 5th, 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 6th no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, siezing 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 of his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and long,
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!
The parable is said to have originated in China or India, but has been attributed to and used by Buddhists, Jainists, Hindus, and Muslims to discourage dogmatism. I'm sure we all know people who would benefit from a fresh reading!

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