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

study centre.