American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) based this poem on a fable that has been told in India for countless generations. It’s an allegory that explains how our senses can lead to serious misunderstandings.
It was six men of Indostan To learning many inclined, Who went to see Elephants (Though they were all blind), Each one by observing can satisfy his mind. The first approached the elephant and happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side. At once started to bawl: “God bless me! But the elephant is very much like a wall!”
The Second, feel the ivory, Cried, “Ho! What do we have here? Very round and smooth and sharp? To me, ’tis clearly majestic This wonder of an elephant is Very much like a spear!”
The third man approached the animal, And casually took the twisted trunk in his hand. So boldly stood up and said, “I see,” he said, “The elephant is very much like a snake!”
The fourth stretched out an eager hand And felt about the knee. “What this wondrous beast resembles most is the mighty plain,” he said; “‘Obviously enough, The elephant is very much like a tree!”
The fifth, who began to touch the ears, said: “E’en the blindest man Can say this most like; Denying the fact that who can This miracle of an elephant is very similar to a fan!”
The sixth soon had begun About the beast to grope, Then, grabbing the swinging tail That fell within his scope, “I see,” he said, “The elephant is very much like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan argued loudly and protractedly, Each in his own opinion Superior and strong, Though each was partly right, And all were wrong! Moral of The Elephant Story So oft in theologic wars, The Disputants, I ween, Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean, And prate about an Elephant None of them has seen!