The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Lars Gustafsson’s “Lines for the Prince of Venosa,” as translated by Yvonne L. Sandstroem, is a narrative poem of approximately 875 words. The poem is written in free verse with irregular line and stanza lengths. Although the predominant configuration is two-line stanzas with occasional one-line stanzas for emphasis, the five parenthetical stanzas are more irregular, varying from one to eight lines. The unpredictable line and stanza patterns reinforce the free-flowing nature of the narrative in which the speaker describes an aimless journey through time and space. Although the poem begins in November, 1971, in Sweden, it quickly moves to an encounter with nineteenth century composers Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler in Egypt’s Sinai desert. During the course of his travels, the speaker meets, in person and in daydream, a number of well-known historical figures, but he never encounters the poem’s title character, Prince Venosa.

The narrator of “Lines for the Prince of Venosa” is clearly intended to be the poet himself. This point is made clear when the speaker, a writer, complains about a newspaper review that reads: “Gustafsson, above all, is unnecessarily learned.” This offhand comment about Gustafsson’s writing reinforces the whimsical tone of the entire narrative. The poem begins by dismissing “Robinson,” apparently Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, because “he was nothing but a character in an adventure story.” Next, the narrator...

(The entire section is 607 words.)