Monday, 3 November 2014
New Poem: Prince Otto
Prince Otto acquired so much personal wealth
that he started to wonder if he had reached a
point where there really was no need for him to
do anything. His mind turned to his own body.
Surely things that took effort could and should be
done by someone else. He commissioned his
scientists to investigate the possibility of inventing
a machine that would get rid of his bodily waste
without him having to make any effort at all. Various
suggestions were made,some of which are familiar
to us today as ways of dealing with medical situations,
involving bags and tubes and the like, but Prince Otto
felt that none of these were convenient enough and,
what’s more, would interfere with his pleasures. He
simply wanted someone or something to accompany
him to the usual private place and do the work for him.
Then, as he walked in his grounds, he noticed one
of his gardeners, pausing a moment in his work.
That’s it, he thought to himself. Everything in life
has its opposite. There is work. And there is not-work.
All I need to do is not-work. He felt a great burden
lifted from him. The years of scientific effort and
experiment had only brought him irritation, and
on occasions, some unpleasant sensations. He
went on eating and drinking as usual. Though he
had acquired fabulous wealth he wasn’t a prodigious
eater or drinker. At first, he enjoyed the feeling of
entering his private place, knowing full well that he
would be making no effort whatsoever. As far as
liquid waste was concerned, he was pleased to see
that apart from the matter of ensuring that his clothing
wasn’t an obstacle, he could indeed make no effort
at all. He invented - or thought that he invented - the
‘waterfall reverie’ - as a means of bringing on the
process. Solid matter was, well, another matter. He
would enter the private place, perceiving that the
need was there. Resolutely, he would announce to
himself that on no account would he, Prince Otto,
make any effort whatsoever, only for him then
to find that nothing happened. He tried alternative
reveries: quarrying, fruit-picking, tipping, spending...
none of them worked. As the days went by he found
that he became sluggish and sweated more than usual.
It wasn’t as though, prior to this vow, he had made much
effort anyway. It had only involved a moment of holding
the breath, a little contraction of the lower abdomen
perhaps, but nothing more. But his promise to himself
had to be kept. He would not go back on his word, even
if all it involved were such slight quantities of energy.
Needless to say, this was a matter that could not be kept
secret. As a result of his obsession, he found that he
could not proceed without telling anyone, but who could
he trust with the secret? Only his faithful hunting dog, also
called Prince Otto. So, deep in a glade in the palace park,
Prince Otto told Prince Otto the full story. No one knows
exactly how or why anyone else did get to know this story
but sure enough, the word went round:
Prince Otto (the prince, not the dog) was refusing to
make the customary effort. The effect this had on the
populace of the principality was remarkable. We might have
expected that the natural concern of the people and the
respect that they usually paid their ruler would have
produced advice, regret, compassion. Strangely on this
occasion, the first response seems to have been mostly
laughter and mockery. The second response, however, was
in its own way shocking. It was what a scientist would
call ‘sympathetic action’. This is where action in one organism
or part of an organism results in similar action in another
organism or part. To put it briefly, most people in the
principality, interpreted the Prince’s woes as a cue to say to
themselves, how Prince Otto behaves, so will we.
Fortunately, the people did not feel that this applied to bodily
processes, as they could see the painful consequences of so
doing. Rather, they applied it to their daily work. The outcome
of this was that Prince Otto not only suffered great physical
pain, he started to experience privations in all parts of his
life. The situation could not last. There was a contest
between two forces: inward and outward. Would the
deprivation of everything that supplied Prince Otto with his
needs - food, drink, clothing, heat - end his life; or would the
amassing of his waste result in a crisis of another kind?
Unfortunately, I have to close the curtains on this episode,
as the information as to what happened next is not available.
All that is known is that the small principality was no longer
ruled by a prince and new arrangements were made for the
production and distribution of goods and services. The gardener
who paused for a moment in his work became a local hero.
Prince Otto the dog died after many years entertaining children.
You can see him in a glass case in the Palace, which is now a