Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In spite of the lighthearted tone, “Lines for the Prince of Venosa” is a serious poem about what it means to be an artist. The three themes that the poem considers are the artist’s need for fame and for affirmation of his or her work, the artist’s needs as a human being, and the artist’s search for truth. The most immediate concern is the need for affirmation of one’s work. Most of the artists that Gustafsson mentions had difficulty finding popular acceptance. For example, Mahler’s reputation was hampered by his unpopularity as an exacting conductor and by the fact that he was a Jew. Even though Bruckner had written three masses that were performed in Linz, Austria, he was treated in Vienna like a rustic outsider. Walt Whitman’s poetry, with its disjoined lines, likewise languished in obscurity. Of himself, Gustafsson says that people in Gothenburg do not understand him “(as usual)” and that the press considers him too “learned.” However, the narrator’s own appreciation of Mahler and Bruckner is qualified by the description of their symphonies as being interminably slow and ponderous in order “to convince us that death isn’t so bad after all.” Whitman’s disconnected rhyming catalogs are juxtaposed with the piles of disjointed body parts found in Saint Catherine’s monastery. Finally, Defoe’s widely read novel is dismissed because it is only “an adventure story/ that everyone’s read before.”

The second...

(The entire section is 584 words.)