Last week, I told you about the poem called “How to be a Thai Gentleman” written by Sunthorn Phu. He was born in the late 18th century and wrote poetry during the reigns of the first four kings of the present Chakri dynasty. He went in and out of favour a few times but these days he is regarded as one of the leading poets Thailand has ever produced. In fact, the country celebrates his birth every year on June 26th. My school organizes activities on that day for the students to take part in. This includes poetry writing competitions.
I took this picture of his statue on a beach near Phetchaburi, south of Bangkok. If you ever get a chance it is worth visiting because you can see some of the characters from his work dotted around the beachfront and in the sea! I will write more about this place soon.
Meanwhile, I want to share with you another of his poems. This one is called Supasit Sorn Ying or “How to be a Good Wife”. You might think that a lot of this is not relevant to a modern world, but it is important to read and understand this poem which helped shape Thai culture. This translation was written by Denis Segaller in his excellent “More Thai Ways” book. Unfortunately, the Bangkok Post has closed down its publishing section and this book is now out of print. Hopefully it will find a new publisher soon.
“If your husband loves you, don’t be stubborn; honour him every day; do not be wilful. When it gets dark, you should not stray away but light the lamp, go and see to the bedroom, make and clean the bed, sweep away dust. And every night when he retires to bed crouch at his feet and pay him homage. Never forget! If he is stiff with aches and cramps, ease them with soothing massage. When you go to sleep, be decorous; don’t let your hands and feet stray over him while you are asleep. If you sleep thus your goodness will shine forth.
“Don’t go on sleeping till sun is high; you should get up before your husband, and prepare water for him to wash his face. Then do the cooking and prepare the tray of dishes to give a beautiful effect, along with the spittoon, polished and shining. Make sure no dust is in the drinking water.
“And if you know he has to go somewhere but find that he has not yet woken up, then gently get him up without delay to eat his food. Sit near him while he eats, in case anything lacks; don’t give him cause to shout for it. Pay careful heed until he’s finished eating. Then you yourself may eat. Don’t eat before he does; it is not seemly, and he won’t like it.
“If your husband is in the Royal service and must go in and out the Royal Palace, then you must prepare his carrying-case with betel and tobacco. Always try to wait on him, serve him, as a friend would do. If you thus serve your husband without fail, then you will prosper and rise in others’ esteem. A true-born lady always shows her nature; don’t throw your good behaviour to the winds. It is not good to be half-man, half-woman, and no one will admire you for that.
“And if your husband should rise up in anger, you should abase yourself to quench his wrath. Do not allow yourself to raise your voice and answer back. If he is fire, you should be as water sprinkled on him. If both of you are aflame, the fire will spread – anger which then can never be suppressed. Your private conjugal feelings will escape, to become known to all the world outside. What neighbours didn’t know, thay now will know. So therefore, don’t indulge in your own wrath.
“Be pleasing to your husband; he will love you dearly. Never fail to do the household chores. And if he should fall ill, do not disturb him but smile, console, be pleasing as before; talk to him only when he’s well again; tend to his needs and pander to his mood. Whatever he doesn’t like, you shouldn’t do. Guard your own counsel, don’t show your feelings outside.
“All the bad things forbidden by your husband you should avoid; your manners should be thus. Do not be stubborn and neglectful; speak only with sweetness.
“But if you have a quarrel with your husband, don’t spread tales of the quarrel behind his back. Always suppress your own emotion and keep it to yourself; don’t let the quarrel linger on; banish its shadow. Then you will be called one who uses her brains and knows how to conceal all evil things.
“Do this, and those who know you will admire you and think you clever. And your husband will be pleased.”
If you are Thai, how much of that do you think is practised today? I think there are surely to be some things which are still believed today. However, the modern Thai woman might not agree.
You might also like to read some of the excellent Do’s and Don’ts written by Steve.
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