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The Emperor Of Ice-Cream

Wallace Stevens

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The Emperor of Ice Cream
Added by: Catherine
This is one of my favorite poems. I'm not sure, but I think it's about death.
the emperor of ice cream
Added by: Melissa J. C.
oops - forgot to mention that in the line "Let the lamp affix its beam", I took the meaning of "beam" to mean a lamp-pole.
the emperor of ice cream
Added by: Melissa J. C.
(this was part of a poetry assignment)
“The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream” expresses the poem’s recurring theme: that life is governed only by base human desires. “Ice cream” symbolizes self-indulgent pleasure – it is also described as “concupiscent curds”. Rewording the line, we get “the only power (essentially, an “emperor”) is the power of desire.” In the first verse, the “emperor” is accordingly represented as a powerfully muscular, cigar-smoking (pleasure-seeking) guy cooking up ice cream at a funeral. The phrase “Let the wenches dawdle in such dress/ As they are used to wear” reveals the guests as a sloppy, idle bunch. The boys “bring flowers in last month’s newspapers” – they simply can’t be bothered to get proper wrapping paper, even for a funeral. More attention is paid to the ice-cream man than the dead woman. With its symbolic images and harsh tone, the poem paints a scathing portrait of human nature: people are selfish pigs who put their own desires above all else.
In the second verse, the dead woman is shown to be a poor and unpleasant person. Her furniture is cheap and broken down, like the “dresser of deal,/ Lacking the three glass knobs”. She is “cold” and “dumb”, describing both her character and the physical state of the corpse. The sheet with the “embroidered fantails” is pulled over her face – symbolizing the human tendency to hide unpleasant reality. We want to “let the lamp affix its beam”, knowing that it can’t. In life, people don’t want to take action even though it’s needed to make things work. Similarly, in the metaphor “Let be be finale of seem”, to “be” is to live, while to “seem” is to appear without actually “being”. This is a reference to acting, as is “finale” – the last scene of a show or piece of music. We make life an artificial production – meaningless, but entertaining. This is a call to stop and face the reality of life, despite our nature to be selfish hedonists, and do what we have to do.
emperor of ice-cream
Added by: kim scott
the point that i got from this poem is to le be be... the visitors in this poem are all content with fate. they know that they can not box with destiny so the are making the best out of a bad situation.
Added by: okkoto
true that there are many sexual refrences in this poem but there are also refrences to death as well.

the first stanaz makes refrences to sex as has been pointed out.
the second stanza has many refrences to death. the woman being covered in a sheet with her feet protruding and her being cold and dumb(mute, silent, dead)

i think the poem is saying that while this sort of fanfare and sexual escapades seem so important we all wind up dead.

the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream because ice cream is really really great stuff that everyone enjoys but it melts and everything comes to an end. think ozymandius as the original emperor of ice cream or quite a few poems from jeffers deal with the same ideas.
Added by: Ian James
Consider the possibility that the "roller of big cigars" is the undertaker or embalmer who wraps the corpse in the death shroud. The big cigar is the woman. It's a bit of playful irreverence.
"The Emperor of Ice Cream"
Added by: keely
I thought this was quite an interesting poem, it brought out the grotesque side of Wallace Stevens
Let Be be Finale of Seem
Added by: Ric
I have always read this line as "Let 'be' be the end of 'seem'."

concupiscent curds all over your face.
Added by: Mark
Sometimes a cigar is NOT just a cigar, but an explicit phallic symbol, especially when wielded by a (seminiferous) muscular man who whips up some concupiscent curds (ahem).

Yes, we know the narrative of the poem: that this is a tawdry funeral, for which all solemn pomp has been abandoned. But the poem is not only a description of such an event, or even a celebration of it, but a demand for it. After all, most sentences are imperatives. Stevens want to abandon the sacred for the profane: there is no God (emporer) but that of ice cream And here ice cream represents not only the everyday olfactory pleasure but also--why deny it?--the sexual seed and thus biological reproduction. Yes, this poem is about death, but for Stevens, "Death is the mother of all beauty" (check out 'Sunday Morning') and here, that beauty is not only worldly but carnal. Without death, there would be no need for reproduction, and thus no sex. This poem is about sex AND death, and how they necessitate each other, and make each other possible.
Added by: C. Vijayasree
This poem juxtaposes life and death in what appears to be a matter of fact manner but provides insights into the reality that the realms of life and death have very thin and porous boundaries separating them.

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