- 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!
The poem is written in nine sestets in Common Meter- alternating between one line in Trochaic Octameter (eight syllables) and one in Iambic Trimeter (six syllables.) It follows the iambic stress pattern of unstressed/stressed syllables. Each sestet follows its own ABABAB rhyme scheme.
Common Meter example:
× / × / × / × / It was six men of Indostan × / × / × / To learning much inclined
The poem was written by John Godfrey Saxe, an American poet who was born 2 June 1816 and died 31 March 1887. He wrote the poem in 1872.
It is based on an Indian parable prominent in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cultures. It is seen as a metaphor for the dangers of arguing something you do not have the full knowledge of.
Usage in A Series of Unfortunate Events
The poem was a favorite of Bertrand Baudelaire. When he would get into a whimsical mood, he would grab his nearest child- usually Sunny, once his other children got old enough to find this embarrassing- and bounce them up and down on his lap while he recited it. The children later use the poem's message to realize that they need to combine their experiences in the Hotel Denouement in order to figure out Count Olaf's plan; Sunny quotes the line, "Each was partly in the right, but all were in the wrong."
It was one of the poems that Bertrand and Dewey Denouement would use to signal each other, as Dewey said that they would use poetry of "an American humorist of the nineteenth century." To signal to the Baudelaires he can be trusted, Dewey recites the final verse of the poem.
- John Godfrey Saxe may have been referenced again in "The Penultimate Peril: Part Two;" Klaus Baudelaire says that their mother once told him, "Laws are like sausages. If you learn how they're made, it can ruin your breakfast." This is remarkably similar to a famous quote from Saxe: "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made."