The Princess and the Pea

by Gennady Spirin

by Gennady Spirin


“Any one of the symbols in a classic story is worthy of a close look. If we meditate on the flow of images, and reflect on the meanings it presents to us, the rewards can be great.” So says Jonathan Young.

 In my research for these notes I discovered the poet William Stafford’s image of following a thread of creativity. “Something catches your attention, a feeling, an image, an idea, the events of a moment. The challenge is to pay attention to that subtle urge and follow it gently.” (Young)

Here’s William Stafford’s poem:

The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Stafford instructs us elsewhere to “accustom ourselves to talking without orating, and to writing without achieving Paradise Lost.”

 Bridgett Jensen muses on her blog, “This, I suppose, is what it means not to pull too hard at that golden thread, but what a difficult task. Not to pull is to stay in and with the moment, mining it for all its glory, not pulling too hard at meaning, but simply being, following quietly, watching, recording, witnessing.”

This reminds me of the Gestalt saying ‘don’t push the river’ – stay in the moment, let what comes come.

So let’s hold on to these threads as we see what riches we can find in the story of the Princess and the Pea. You may want to go straight to the process page and the annotations page later. 


Jonathan Young, Indside Journal, Fall 1997,

Bridgett Jensen:

Jim Ellis:



Real princess: “Delicacy in women was assumed and appreciated during Andersen’s lifetime” – Heidi Anne Heiner

May be she was a real princess, maybe she wasn’t, but there was something about her that made the King let her in.

Not quite right: An Italian version of the story has the prince choosing one of three women, the one who was injured by a jasmine petal falling on her foot. Poetic indeed, but just as ridiculous as a pea under forty layers!

Fearful tempest: A storm in a story often heralds a change. The princess has braved the storm so maybe she is not so delicate. She also seems not to care about her bedraggled appearance, not like most princesses.

Queenmother:  She makes the test and the King lets her in. There’s something to be said for the family support of a couple, after all we marry (formally) into a family, or at least become (informally) part of one. As a friend of mine once said, it’s not like he’s a puppy you can just take back to the pound, he’s family now!

“Very badly indeed”: Would you be game to admit to your host that you had slept badly because of the bed? She may have been sensitive, but this princess is also forthright in speaking her truth.

None but a real princess: High maintenance, or showing qualities of authenticity and compassion?

Reflection Questions

These questions are for your own personal reflections on the story. Perhaps you don’t relate to the whole story, but parts of it do resonate with aspects of your experience. Those are the parts you can work with. And if you find a question disturbing, do seek out a wise and trusted friend or therapist to talk it over with.

I would encourage you as you reflect on these questions to have your favourite creativity materials or a visual journal nearby. Be open to any images that may come to you and concretize your reflections in some sort of art-making.

Take a couple of minutes to write down your first response to this story, now – your immediate thoughts and feelings.

What do you remember of your reactions when you first heard the story –  as a child?

Take about 20 minutes - What figure, moment, or image stands out the most for you? Who or what do you identify with? Write from that part – use your imagination and creativity.  Or draw your feelings of that part.

What do you accept about yourself from your story or your drawing? And what do you reject or want to change? What fits for you and what doesn’t?