The Blind Men and the Elephant, Revisited

My pilgrim soul once undertook

A journey of the mind

To Hindustan, the mythic East

The truth of things to find.

Of blind men once a rhyme I’d heard

Whose hands did serve for sight

But none of which could comprehend

The human creature’s plight

As mortal and as strait of mind.

Each blind man, so it’s told,

Would shout to others, giving names

To what he touched, and being bold,

Would call the elephant’s leg the whole

Another one, the trunk,

And thus the creature must reflect

What each man held, so each man thunk.

So one man said “It’s like a wall.”

Another, “Like a tree.”

And so on down the line, it’s told,

Each claimed the whole of mystery.

And as each man would speculate,

The older poem did conclude

That God must likewise be beyond

The dogma claimed by any dude–

Divine things must be likewise dark

To those whose limits hold

Perceptions to one’s narrow sight.

And so I heard, and took as told

Until I came upon those men–

As blind as stories tell–

But where the old tale told of five,

Five there were, but one as well

Upon a hill, looking down,

As blind as all the rest,

But telling them with great panache

That what each one would thus attest

Was partial, part of larger mass

An elephant, he cried,

Must be the whole, but now I knew,

And when I knew, I sighed

Because I saw a different sight

From poems’ easy lore

Indeed, five blind men saw with hands,

But objects there were four.

Two men indeed did pat the hide

Of elephant so big,

But one in fact did touch a tree,

Another a nearby pig.

The fifth blind man in fact found a snake,

An oddly sanguine asp:

It never bit despite the abuse!

And then I did begin to grasp:

The sixth was the one to see,

I knew before too long:

The one who wove the tale of One

To that one only did belong

An elephant, a child’s toy,

A tiny world, at that.

As fingers grasped the minuscule

The blind man yelled, the blind man spat

And framed the dark so that it might

Be just like toys so small

And, being blind, the man knew not

That he had missed at all

The grandeur and variety

Of things under the sun

But being prone to claim too much,

The sixth man made all one.

And in the years that came to pass

The blind man fame did gain,

His poem did become a fad

On tour folks paid for his refrain,

And soon the ones who wished to sound

Like learned, reading folks

Would quote the poem I once heard

And tell some good, broad-minded jokes,

“Those fools,” the learned folks would start,

“They think a tusk a spear!”

“They think the ear a fan, I say!”

The fans did shout, then sipped their beer.

But I returned to my small world

Convinced that I’m still fine

To keep confessing creeds of old

And keep a humble mind.

I do not know enough, it seems,

To say that all our ways

Together make an elephant

On which I only gaze.

I do not write, in other words,

To claim that I can see:

I only wish to offer folks

Another possibility.

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