Nattrinai – 210
What her friend said to him:
O’ man from the prosperous town where those
who carry baskets with seeds to be sowed,
in wide mushy fields that are plowed
after harvesting paddy, return with fish loads;
Praise from the King and riding in his army
are not signs of prosperity, but one’s destiny;
wise men define prosperity as dreading
the pain of loved ones and being
compassionate; that’s what prosperity is.
அரிகால் மாறிய அங்கண் அகல்வயல்
மறுகால் உழுத ஈரச் செறுவின்
வித்தொடு சென்ற வட்டி பற்பல
மீனொடு பெயரும் யாணர் ஊர
நெடிய மொழிதலுங் கடிய ஊர்தலும்
செல்வம் அன்றுதன் செய்வினைப் பயனே
சான்றோர் செல்வம் என்பது சேர்ந்தோர்
புன்கண் அஞ்சும் பண்பின்
மென்கண் செல்வஞ் செல்வமென் பதுவே.
Sangam poetry – Ten long poems and Eight anthologies – is rich in metaphors. These poems are dated approximately between 200 BCE to 200 CE. This poem is from the anthology Nattrinai.
In Sangam poetry, hero going to courtesan’s house and being chided on returning back is an oft repeated theme. In this poem, he comes back, she chides him and doesn’t let him in. He asks her friend to take up his case. This poem is her friend advising him. The second part of the poem says “Though you may be a favorite of the King and ride with him, that is not prosperity. Real prosperity is caring for your loved ones and being tender towards them”.
The first part of the poem by itself seems unconnected to the second part. It just reads like a description of his town. 19th century commentary writers treated it as a metaphor for him going to the courtesan. வித்தொடு சென்ற வட்டி பற்பல மீனோடு பெயரும் – Baskets that went with seeds return with fish. “Farmers take baskets of seeds to be sowed in freshly plowed fields and come back with various fish found in canals. Similarly the bard introduces the courtesan to him and gets a reward in return.”
You can read this poem without the metaphorical meaning too. In Tamil Nadu Tenth Standard text book this poem is explained as a sagacious advice given by her friend to him. Why she advices him is left out though.