John G Saxe: The Blind Men and the Elephant

A few nights ago, I told Athos and Porthos the story of the six blind men of Hindustan. It made an impression on Athos because he asked me to tell him the story again today. And midway through the story, I suddenly remembered that there’s a poetic version. It’s a fun one for kids because it is both accessible and wise. So here it is for your enjoyment:

The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe

There were six men of Hindustan,
to learning much inclined,
Who went to see an 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,
“This mystery of an elephant
is very like a wall.”

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 third approached the elephant,
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 fourth reached out an eager hand,
and felt above the knee,
“What this most wondrous beast
is like is very plain” said he,
” ‘Tis clear enough the elephant
is very like a tree.”

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 sixth no sooner had begun
about the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
that fell within his scope;
“I see,” said he, “the elephant
is very like a rope.”

So six blind men of Hindustan
disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
exceeding stiff and strong;
Though each was partly in the right,
they all were in the wrong!

Now what’s interesting is that there’s actually a final verse which is sometimes left out, perhaps because it takes away from the wonderful broad applicability of the poem. But in fairness to Saxe, here it is:

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!

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3 responses to “John G Saxe: The Blind Men and the Elephant

  1. One of my favorite (grown-up) stories … love the poem version. Thanks for the post!

  2. I have never heard this poem before and it is wonderful Thanks for sharing it.If all the so called
    political peace makers would read this the world would be a better place

  3. Please let me know if you’re looking for a author for your site. You have some really great posts and I believe I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d love to write some content for your blog in
    exchange for a link back to mine. Please send me an e-mail if interested.

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