Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Blind Men and the Elephant

This story is very, very old--dating perhaps to the time of the Buddha, around 500 BCE!--but the version here is a "modern," humorous poem by American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887). You can read more about it in my Lesson #08-133.

The Blind Men and the Elephant:
A Hindoo Fable


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 Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: "Ho!--what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 't is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"


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 Fourth reached out his 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 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," 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!


We each take our limited experience of the world to be "the whole truth," and insist to others that our view is the correct one.

A slight paraphrase of this story is given in Lesson #08-133, along with some vocabulary practice.

Check your understanding:

  • Make six sentences like this: "An elephant's ________ is like a ________."

Some Words to Know (for English Language Learners):

The story contains a number of old-fashioned or unusual words. Here are some quick definitions:

  • bawl: cry out
  • chanced: happened
  • disputants: people arguing about something ("disputing")
  • e'en: even
  • Indostan: an old name for India (more usually "Hindustan")
  • oft: often
  • prate: babble; speak a lot but say little
  • quoth: said
  • rail: complain angrily
  • spake: spoke
  • 'tis: it is
  • theologic: theological, that is, about religious belief
  • ween: suppose; think
  • wondrous: wonderful; amazing

Please leave a comment - I can't WAIT to hear from you!