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