When derided by Srinadha, the prosperous (at that time) and eminent poet, about his vocation of farming and his abject poverty, the equally eminent but extremely humble poet Pothana replies, ” What if a poet, ploughs his dreary furrow , what harm if he has to dig out roots, yams and tubers, to be able to feed the bellies of his dear wife and children? .” (Haalikulaina naemi, Kandamoolakauddalikulainanaemi, nija dara sutodara poshanaardhamai.)
True, what if he ate tubers, what if he was a humble farmer, he was a great poet,he was eminent,in his own right and in his own way, and he was a poet who is read, understood and quoted more widely than Srinadha to this day.
By an irony of fate, the mighty and arrogant Srinadha was forced in his old age by a reversal of fortunes to take up farming to eke out a miserable living but is thwarted in his endeavor by pests and pestilences,and dies while being dragged around and flogged in hot sun by the servants of an insensitive king, for not having been able to remit a few hundred bucks in taxes as a consequence of failure of crops..
Robert Burns was another farmer born into poverty, who composed great poetry while toiling at his plough He loved to read and was by and large self taught. The erudition born out of his voracious reading, and the dreariness of the farmer’s existence and its vagaries, soon, while he was still in his teens, started to spill out as spontaneous outpourings of catchy rhymes, mainly about the seeming absurdity of human existence, the depredations and depravities of the high, mighty and pious and the inconsistencies in the religious theories, dogmas and tenets commonly bandied around. He chafed at an iniquitous dispensation wherein, ‘holier-than-thou Willies’ committed unspeakable atrocities on the smug and hypocritical premise that the Almighty loved sinners more than the virtuous.
After a stint of schooling away from home to learn surveying and mensuration and following the illness and death of his father , the young man in his twenties returns with full enthusiasm to farming . He studies the science of farming earnestly and determines to be prudent, industrious and thrifty but unfortunately owing to factors like bad seeds and late harvest etc., his wisdom turns out to be of no avail to him, he concludes that he was destined mainly to be a poet . He returns to his glories as a poet, follies as a man, and despairs as a farmer and later to labors as an exciseman ‘ like the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed, to his wallowing in the mire’.
Here is a poem of his which I like.
Man Was Made To Mourn
By Robert Burns
When chill November’s surly blast
Made fields and forests bare,
One ev’ning, as I wander’d forth
Along the banks of Ayr,
I spied a man, whose aged step
Seem’d weary, worn with care;
His face was furrow’d o’er with years,
And hoary was his hair.
“Young stranger, whither wand’rest thou?”
Began the rev’rend sage;
“Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure’s rage?
Or haply, prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn
The miseries of man.
“The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling’s pride; –
I’ve seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return;
And ev’ry time has added proofs,
That man was made to mourn.
“O man! while in thy early years,
How prodigal of time!
Mis-spending all thy precious hours-
Thy glorious, youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway;
Licentious passions burn;
Which tenfold force gives Nature’s law.
That man was made to mourn.
“Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood’s active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported in his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then Age and Want – oh! ill-match’d pair –
Shew man was made to mourn.
“A few seem favourites of fate,
In pleasure’s lap carest;
Yet, think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest:
But oh! what crowds in ev’ry land,
All wretched and forlorn,
Thro’ weary life this lesson learn,
That man was made to mourn.
“Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
“See yonder poor, o’erlabour’d wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful, tho’ a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.
“If I’m design’d yon lordling’s slave,
By Nature’s law design’d,
Why was an independent wish
E’er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty, or scorn?
Or why has man the will and pow’r
To make his fellow mourn?
“Yet, let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast:
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the last!
The poor, oppressed, honest man
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!
“O Death! the poor man’s dearest friend,
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy fear thy blow
From pomp and pleasure torn;
But, oh! a blest relief for those
That weary-laden mourn!”t
Here are two links to two compositions by Joseph Addison which Robert Burns is known yo have read, as an young boy.
You may find a website of BBC devoted to Burns at this link