The Emperor Of Ice-Cream Poem by Wallace Stevens

The Emperor Of Ice-Cream

Rating: 4.3

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal.
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Zaineb Alsaygh 02 April 2008

oh yonoos you make me hungry i do like ice-cream ohhhhhhh! ! ! ! ! my stomach crying because of you thax alot yours

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Michael L 24 May 2012

I think that this is a poem written from a moment (biographical or not) of angry and rebellious atheism. As a fallen believer, I have written many such poems myself. And it was perhaps this poem that first empowered my falling-many years ago. There is no emperor (God) , there is only ice cream- the reality of cigars, muscles, concupiscence, deal, rough feet, plain dress, and the cold light of objectivity. 'Let BE be finale of SEEM'- There is no God, but ice cream is very real. Or, as the 'curds' are 'concupiscent, ' SEX is very real.

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Johann Cat 26 October 2012

There is no obvious funeral or wake in this poem. People who are so recently dead that they are being covered by a sheet in their own beds are not about to be buried, nor are they subject to celebrations in the next room. Funerals usually do not take place in peoples' bedrooms (dressers are typically objects of furniture in bedrooms) . The second stanza is more likely a death room scene than a wake. The party with boys and wenches and the cigar-rolling caterer, ice cream, and flowers does not have to be related, as if in a linear narrative, to the woman in her bed being covered by the fantail-embroidered sheet, but it is thematically related, in sensuous exuberance; this is a high modernist poem, not a short story from 1877. (Do we insist that Marie in Section One of The Waste Land is somehow a business associate of the Hyancith Girl or of Tristan, a few lines later? No. We understand them to be thematically related) . The festive motto of the party with boys who bring flowers is also the same being-in-time/ seize-the-day motto that applies to the room of the newly dead: The only emperor/ Is the emperor of ice cream. I find the thematic power of the poem (which relies on the resonance of the two stanzas' images against each other, not on an obvious story) weakened by the attempt, common online, to narratize this poem into a wake, though it is possible to do so. But are funereal flowers brought wrapped in newspapers? No, but flowers brought to dates are. Why would boys bring flowers wrapped in newspaper to dawdling wenches at a wake? Do wenches dawdle in their usual dresses at wakes? It is more likely that they are dawdling at some undefined party. These two stanzas do not have to be easily spatially or temporally connected, because the thematic relationship-in the motto to seize life as one can-is dominant.

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J T Hutcherson 08 December 2007

I've always loved this poem, for what it has to say, for how it was written and even the fact that it took me a long time to get into it, though the message is pretty straight forward. Maybe it was the vocabulary. I've been fascinated by it from the first reading. Anyhow, with the opening line, 'Call... The muscular one... concupiscent [lustful] curds...', I think Stevens is saying that life is grounded in the physical, and not only that, but also that we are driven and ruled by the yearning, pursuit and satisfaction of our desires, especially the physical ones. In fact, despite all of our history and great political movements and civilized accomplishments ('flowers wrapped in last months newspapers') , these simple needs and desires, even biological concerns, are at the core of everything we do. 'The emperor of ice cream' is simple desire personified, desire on an instinctual level. All this hustle and bustle, love and want of love, or just the attainment of a more extravagant luxury, this is life and it's who we are. 'Be (reality) ' really is the 'finale of seem'. Furthermore, I think Stevens admires the hustle and bustle of humanity going about its various pursuits. In the second stanza Stevens is confirming that being driven by desire is as it should be, because without desire life is cheap furniture like a 'dresser of deal', cold and colorless like dead flesh. In this funeral scene the only things to be noted with interest are the 'embroidered fantails' on a sheet that the deceased had tried to make more beautiful, more desirable. 'Let the lamp affix its beam, ' you can dress it up or look at it directly under the cold, bright lamp of the mortician, but in the end death is of little consequence. There is nothing in death, nothing to long for, nothing to admire.

28 4 Reply
Kim Schnare 14 February 2008

A commentary on how members of a society honor their dead, The Emperor of Ice Cream allows the reader's personal opinon to dictate how they interpret the lines. It was written from the distant, omniscient angle revealed in the last line of each stanza, but frequently makes use of a wonderfully convertable, imperative, second-person viewpoint. This allows statements like “let the wenches dawdle in such dress / As they are used to wear, ” be taken as contemptuous OR permissive. The intent of the poem is to provoke an analysis, to get the reader to look closely at the attitude of the men and women who gather to pay their last respects. The street “roller of big cigars” is given the task of serving ice cream, a food associated with things like triviality, brievity, sensuality, and the notion of carpe diem. This 'emperor of ice cream' then becomes a central figure in the dead woman's wake (funereal gathering) , to whom the wenches and boys who brought “flowers in last month's newspapers” keep coming back and back. Line 7 encapsluates the first stanza. It suggests (but does not confirm) a 'permissive' attitude towards the festivities, stating that what is happening now is the best course of action, and that this frivolty in the presence of death is concurrent with the reality that life goes on. It suggests that honest ice cream is more respectful than a crowd of somber black-clad mourners doing what is socially expected while wishing for flirtation and fun. The woman lying covered in a self-embroidered sheet either doesn't care how her neighbors/family react to her death, or is unable to protest. The 'three glass knobs' missing from the dresser in her room imply either simple impoverishment or post-mortem burglary. Line 15 is a summarization of the poem's theme, written from that interchangeable second-person viewpoint. The lamp light is a metaphor for the mental focus of society and the individual, whose attention needs to be replaced on the tragedy of death and discount the magic of life. Or vice versa.

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Stella Crews 29 November 2020

She is dead the emperor Death is cold and sweet - the knobless casket, Finale: The big finish.

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Michael Walker 30 July 2019

A compelling poem, which is actually about poverty-old clothes, 'last month's newspapers', 'the dresser of deal'. However, 'The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream'. Poorer children tend to love ice-cream. An obscure, but highly successful poem.

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Bri Edwards 14 June 2016

: Let be be finale of seem...............? ? a curious? 2nd stanza, to say the LEAST! !

2 1 Reply
Susan Williams 29 February 2016

I wish I was a member of this site back in 2007 or so- -I have learned so much reading these people's comments below! So much more informative than beautiful and I like this kind of remarks that flood the comments these days. I think these comments below say more and say it better and clearer than I so I shall just comment on the commentators that they are a brilliant group and obviously love the written word. We who love poetry salute you wherever you are.

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Vince Meegan 02 February 2014

I should have added to my comment that if the poem was written around the date of publication (1923) then it would have been during prohibition. Perhaps ice cream was the best hospitality that could be legally offered in those times.

17 2 Reply
Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens

Pennsylvania / United States
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