John Godfrey Saxe
Biography of John Godfrey Saxe
John Godfrey Saxe (June 2, 1816 – March 31, 1887) was an American poet perhaps best known for his re-telling of the Indian parable "The Blindmen and the Elephant", which introduced the story to a Western audience
Saxe was born in Highgate, Vermont at Saxe's Mills, erected by his settler grandfather, John Saxe (Johannes Sachse) a German immigrant and Loyalist to the Crown. Saxe was the son of Peter Saxe, miller, judge and periodic member of the Vermont Assembly, and the Elizabeth Jewett of Weybridge, Vermont. Raised in a strict Methodist home, Saxe was first sent to Weselyan which he left after a year, and then to Middlebury, from which he graduated in 1839. In 1841 he married Sophia Newell Sollace, a sister of a Middlebury classmate, was admitted to the Vermont bar in 1843 and tried to run a business with his dutiful and pious older brother, Charles Jewett Saxe.
The words "dutiful" and "pious" never applied to the aspiring satirist. Bored by his legal work, Saxe began publishing poems for The Knickerbocker, of which "The Rhyme of the Rail" is his most famous early work. He soon caught the attention of the prominent Boston publishing house, Ticknor and Fields. Though he received no royalties for his first volume, it ran to ten reprintings and eventually outsold works by Hawthorne and Tennyson.
Mr. Saxe became a sought after speaker, toured frequently and stayed prolific throughout the 1850s. In 1859 and in 1860 he ran for Governor of Vermont and was beaten both times. As a northern Democrat, he advocated a non-interference policy on slavery and supported Illinois Senator Douglas's policy of "popular sovereignty", a position which rendered the poet extremely unpopular in Republican Vermont. After his second, and even more punishing electoral defeat, Mr. Saxe left his home state in 1860 for neighboring Albany, New York.
Mr. Saxe spent his summers in Saratoga, contributed articles for the Albany Evening Journal and Albany Morning Argus, and published poems in Harpers, The Atlantic, and the Knickerbocker and remained popular on the lecture circuit. "The Proud Miss McBride" and "Song of Saratoga" were some of famous works in this period. However, his attempts to re-enter politics remained unsuccessful.
The 1870s, while living in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, began a series of woes for the poet. His youngest daughter died of tuberculosis. In 1875 he suffered head injuries in a rail accident near Wheeling (WVA), from which he never fully recovered, and then over the next several years his two oldest daughters, his eldest son, and daughter-in-law also died of tuberculosis. In 1879 his wife, under the strain of so many tragedies, burst a blood vessel in her brain and collapsed and died. Including a young son lost in the 1840s, Mr. Saxe had buried five of his six children as well as his wife.
Mr. Saxe sank deep into depression and was moved back to Albany to live with his last surviving child, Charles. His decline from the rollicking poet to grieving recluse earned the sympathy of the people of Albany and when he died in 1887, the New York Assembly ordered his likeness to be chiseled into the "poet's corner" of the Great Western Staircase in the New York State Capitol.
His best remembered poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant", was not his most famous in his day. And though a satirist, his poems written during more somber periods remain some of his most beautiful and enduring, including "Little Jerry the Miller" about his father's mill assistant. Few of the satirical works which had made him famous are read today.
The poet's orphaned grandson, John Godfrey Saxe II, became a New York State senator, President of the New York Bar, and counsel of Columbia University.
According to Fred Shapiro, author of the Yale Book of Quotations, the Daily Cleveland Herald in its issue of Mar. 29, 1869, quotes Saxe as saying “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.
John Godfrey Saxe Poems
The Blind Man And The Elephant
It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined, who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind),
Give me kisses! Do not stay, Counting in that careful way. All the coins your lips can print Never will exhaust the mint.
King Solomon And The Bees
A Tale of the Talmud When Solomon was reigning in his glory, Unto his throne the Queen of Sheba came,
Sonnet To A Clam
Dum tacent clamant INGLORIOUS friend! most confident I am Thy life is one of very little ease;
How Cyrus Laid The Cable
COME, listen all unto my song; It is no silly fable; 'T is all about the mighty cord
Do I Love Thee?
Do I love thee? Ask the bee If she loves the flowery lea, Where the honeysuckle blows And the fragrant clover grows.
Wouldn'T You Like To Know
I know a girl with teeth of pearl, And shoulders white as snow; She lives, - ah well, I must not tell, -
Again I hear that creaking step!-- He's rapping at the door!-- Too well I know the boding sound That ushers in a bore.
To My Love
Kiss me softly and speak to me low; Malice has ever a vigilant ear; What if Malice were lurking near? Kiss me, dear!
Justine, You Love Me Not!
I know, Justine, you speak me fair As often as we meet; And 'tis a luxury, I swear, To hear a voice so sweet;
A maiden, with a garland on her head, Sat in her bower between two lovers: one Wore such a wreath as hers; the other none.
A Persian Tale
That blessings lost, though hard to bear, Are light when weighed with carking care, - Some ill whose ever-goading spite
With My Body I Thee Worship
That I adore thee, my most gracious queen, More in my spirit than my body's sense Of thine, were such incredible pretence
'GOD bless the man who first invented sleep!' So Sancho Panza said, and so say I: And bless him, also, that he didn't keep
'GOD bless the man who first invented sleep!'
So Sancho Panza said, and so say I:
And bless him, also, that he didn't keep
His great discovery to himself; nor try
To make it-as the lucky fellow might-
A close monopoly by patent-right!
Yes; bless the man who first invented sleep
(I really can't avoid the iteration);