In Praise of Norman Busk

My mother, Evie, gets a lot of attention in these missives while my dad, Norman, gets short shrift. That’s not really fair since they were full partners for 68 years. So today we’re going to fix this.

My father was a hard worker his whole life, but we always teased him about not holding a job, because over the years he changed jobs a lot. He worked as a farmer, a teacher, a county clerk, a copper miner, a truck driver, a contractor, and a life insurance agent. He set a daily example about the virtues of perseverance and hard work. He was smart. The local radio station had a daily quiz show where the prize was movie passes. You were only allowed to win once a month, and we did. I always had the number dialed before the questions were read, and he usually knew the answers. And those once-a-month movie passes were always welcome.

But my dad knew a lot about a lot of things, but he also loved poetry. One of his prized possessions, and now one of mine, is a copy of the Treasury of the Familiar which was given to him for Christmas the year he turned ten. Television came late to Bisbee, Arizona. The signals had to make their way over the Mule Mountains. In the years before that happened, we often sat around listening to our father read poetry—in the living room in the winter and on the front porch in the summer.

This week one of my friends and I had a disagreement. In texting back and forth, there was a misunderstanding. There were several testy messages back and forth before we sorted out that it was really a misunderstanding. It’s all sorted now, but in the aftermath, I remembered one of my father’s favorite poems, and sent it along to my friend. Today I’ve decided to send it along to my blog readers.

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 approached the elephant, and, happening to fall,
against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the elephant, is nothing but 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 approached the animal, and, happening to take,
the squirming trunk within his hands, “I see,” quoth he,
the elephant is very like a snake!”

The fourth reached out his 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,
than, seizing on the swinging tail, that fell within his scope,
“I see,” quothe 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,
tread on in utter ignorance, of what each other mean,
and prate about the elephant, not one of them has seen!

In these divisive times, I think a reminder about these guys’ universally mistaken ideas about elephants might just be what the doctor ordered. If you think so, too, raise your cup of coffee in honor of Norman Busk.

As I said before, he was one smart guy.