Monday, January 18, 2016

The Simple Grass Cutter: An Elder Tale

Photo by Nishanth Jois.
This post is part of a series on elder tales.

Most fairy tales cast young people as the protagonist.

There are a handful of tales that depict an older adult as the story's hero.

Here is a tale from India.

The protagonist is a poor laborer whose riches are contained in his character.  By late life, he is content, so he uses his resources to bless the rising generation.

How to Spend His Life Savings

There once was a simple grass cutter. He was not very wealthy, despite working hard his whole life. Nevertheless, he managed to save a few coins here and there.  When he counted his savings, he could not think of anything that he really wanted, so he decided to give his modest savings away.

He asked his merchant friend, "Who is the most beautiful and virtuous woman in the world?" The merchant replied, "Oh, that's easy. She is the Princess of the East."

The grass cutter used his savings to purchase a gold bracelet, which he gave to the merchant. "Please give this bracelet to the princess and tell her that it is from a person who admires beauty and virtue."

Goodness Begets Goodness

After some time, the merchant returned to the grass cutter with a bolt of beautiful silk fabric.  "The princess was honored with your gift and has sent this fabric with me as a token of gratitude."

The grass cutter had no use for the fabric, so he asked the merchant, "Who is the most fair and kind man in the world?"  The merchant replied, "Oh, that is easy, it is the Prince of the West."  The grass cutter instructed the  merchant, "Please give this bolt of luxurious fabric to him and tell him it is from a man who admires fairness and kindness."

After some time, the merchant returned with a dozen beautiful horses, laden with treasure, which were a token of gratitude from the prince.  The grass cutter replied, "What am I to do with these horses?"  He kept one and gave two to his friend. The rest he sent on to the Princess of the East.

An Odd Marriage Proposal

When the merchant delivered the nine beautiful horses, the princess and her parents took this as a possible marriage proposal. They sent a message with the merchant, "We will bring the princess and a wedding party to meet with the potential groom."

When the grass cutter heard this, he was horrified. It was only his intention to honor the princess, not to marry her.  He was distraught, thinking that the king and queen would be livid upon learning his identity.  He contemplated throwing himself down his well. Seeing the foolishness of this act, he collapsed to the ground in despair.

At that point, two angelic beings appeared to him. "Don't despair.  Stand up and look around." When the old man stood up, he saw that his clothing was transformed as was his house.  He was finely dressed, and his hut was now a palace.

Happily Ever After

The old grass cutter rushed to the merchant's house and exclaimed, "I have the perfect solution.  Go fetch the Prince of the West. He would be a perfect match for the princess!"

The old man greeted the wedding party and told them about the prince, who arrived in a reasonable amount of time.  As the grass cutter hoped, the two young royals fell in love. They chose to marry in the wood cutter's newly created mansion.

The royal families, their attendants and the townspeople celebrated for days.

Finally, the new couple set off for the prince's palace in the west.  As the bride and groom saluted the old man, he waved at them with one hand while holding an armful of the freshest grass that he had just cut that morning.


As I am moving through midlife, I see the value in choosing to be content.  It is impossible to achieve all things.  At a certain point, it's satisfying to show gratitude and contentment for all that I have done with my life.  Doing so helps me to progress further to generosity.

This story invites me to seek the wealth in personal virtues instead of in achievements and materialism.  Instead of trying to build my own ego, I feel more ready to bless the lives of others around me, particularly the rising generation.


This account is a paraphrase from Allan B. Chinen's 1989 book In the Ever After: Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life.  Chinen cites the following source: "Walidad the Simple Hearted," in A. Lang, The Brown Fairy Book (New York: Longmans, Green, 1914).


The Old Alchemist: An Elder Tale
Kitchen Wisdom: An Elder Tale


  1. Karen, my favorite part of this elder tale is your take on it. I'd like to be a blessing as well.

    1. I'm glad you liked the tale. These resonate with me in powerful ways. Hooray for literature! Transformative stuff. Thanks for commenting.