The Life of Suthorn Phu
Sunthorn Phu was a royal poet, playwright, and widely regarded as Thai greatest poet. In 1986, UNESCO recognized Suthorn Phu as one of the world’s great poet. His life went through many twists and turns. Born during the reign of King Rama I, he began his study in Wat Chipakaw (now Wat Sisudaram). He began writing poem and selling them afterward. At the age of 20, Suthorn Phu’s works were well received in the royal court. In 1820, he was accepted into Krom Phra Arak (Office of Scribes). During the reign of King Rama II, he began to shine when he was given the task of composing poetry for King Rama II. The king promoted Sunthorn Phu to the rank of Khun Sunthornwoharn (similar to royal poet). Serving in the royal court, Sunthorn Phu raise to prominent figure under the king patronage and he served his majesty with great loyalty. However, it was his drinking habit began to affect his life, wrecking his marriage as well as putting him to jail for assaulting his wife’s relative. It was also during this time that Sunthorn Phu openly criticized poems of Krom Muen Chetsadabodin (later King Rama III) in the assembly of royal court poets, after the prince privately seek his counsel and received the poet’s approval, regarding his writings. The prince was angered by his action and began to feel averse towards Suthorn Phu.
In 1824, King Rama II passed away. Overcame by sorrow and fail out of King Rama III’s favor, Sunthorn Phu left the royal court and became a monk. Sunthorn Phu’s poems during this time express his great sadness toward the loss of his beloved King Rama II. The poet came under various prince and princess’s patronage, including Prince Lakananukun, a son of King Rama III. He began his travel to various part of Thailand in service of his patrons and wrote many poems for those journeys. He also began one of his most famous works, the epic poems of Phra Aphai Mani.
After the death of Prince Lakananukun, Suthorn Phu found himself without any sponsorship and decided to end his 10 years of monkhood. In poverty, Suthorn Phu had to live in a boat and sell his poem for a living. 5 years later, he ordained for the second time along with his son, Pad, at Wat Ratburana. Due to his poverty, Krom Paramanuchitchinorot (later seventh Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhist) supported him during the ordination. He traveled to Suphanburi to find gold without success. He returned to Bangkok and stayed at Wat Thepthidaram under Princess Wilat’s patronage. He finished his poem about Suphanburi journey and Rumpanpirab, a poem that reflects his thoughts and personal records, before leaving the monkhood.
After leaving the temple, he came under Kromma Khun Isaret-rangsan support and later was promoted to Chao Krom Phra Arak (Head of Scribes). After King Rama IV ascension, Sunthorn Phu was promoted to Phra Suthornwoharn, his highest position in the royal court, at age 66. His life took one last turn for the better during this time. 4 years later, he retired himself from service and spent the rest of his life peacefully in his house in Thonburi. Sunthorn Phu passed away around the age of 80.