I came across a poem yesterday that really spoke to me: The Blind Men and the Elephant, by American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887). The poem itself is in the public domain so I’ve fully reproduced it here for your reading pleasure.
After the poem, I’ve written some commentary—not so much a critique of the poem, but what I’ve gleaned from it. Enjoy.
The Blind Men and the Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe
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 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 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 approach’d 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 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 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,
Then, 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!
Commentary – The Blind Men and the Elephant
The moral within The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe is not difficult to ascertain. Particularly since it’s part of the poem itself. On the face of it, it’s a poem about religious tolerance—or more accurately, intolerance—but take away the religious aspect and it could apply to just about any argument between any type of hardheaded people.
For instance, take the current state of global politics right now. The battle of left and right hardliners isn’t just being fought in the USA right now. It’s everywhere. Extremists on both sides of the political spectrum have taken over the political conversations while centrists are left to wonder what is going on.
Now, before I continue let me make one thing perfectly clear: racists clearly exist on both side of the political spectrum and they are not who I’m speaking about when I say extremist righties or lefties. Having said that, however, they were able to rise directly because of the division created by hardliners.
The extremists being discussed today are the media spin doctors from both parties who spout the same “talking points” over and over without considering what the other side is saying. It’s as if politicians delight in purposely not trying to find common ground.
But what can we do, dear reader? Well, we need to start speaking up. If we don’t, we’re as responsible as the people who created the problem. In order to change, we must become activists ourselves. It’s imperative that we become advocates of the middle ground, where real transformation can take place.