Emperor of Ice Cream

I read a poem this week entitled “The Emperor of Ice Cream” by Wallace Stevens. Being quite the ice cream fanatic and frequent eater, I was thrilled by this title.

I read the poem.

And then I said, “what?”

This is one of those poems you read again and again trying to figure out the theme, the message, the encrypted meaning. For a whole day, I just gave up and resigned to the thought that the author must have been on drugs.

But, as good poems do, I kept thinking about it and brought up the web browser once more.

(View the whole poem here: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-emperor-of-ice-cream/ )

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.

I think, and just go with me here for a moment, that this poem is about control. Or power. For right now, they are one in the same. The speaker talks with a sense of authority, though we know not who he is and yet, he has no control over the things that are happening. There are no verbs to say what the speaker is doing. Each character, the muscular roller, the wenches, the boys, the “she” in the second stanza has actively done something.

And then we have this non-sensical repeated point of “the only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.” Initially, I think “that’s pointless”. Ironically…….that’s the point. The only character with control only has power over one thing, ice cream, and it’s meaningless. What’s so great and effective at being emperor of ice cream? (My kid self can think of many reasons but that’s not what we’re going for here.)

I’m sure that I could read this poem more and more and get something entirely different out of it each time. Maybe it’s about a romance. Maybe someone died. Maybe someone is preparing to die. I don’t really have a clue. I do know that poetry is just about expressing something, some lesson, some  way of life, some desire…pleasurable, sensual, sexual, or simple.

If I leave you with the line “Let Be Be the Finale of Seem”, I could say it’s just a typo. I could say that it’s about dealing with the end of what’s real, what’s tangible. The only word I’m sure of is “finale”….so it’s got to be the end of something, right? Dealing with having no control over life?

What do you think? Do I agree or disagree with what I found in this poem? I have no clue. Check back in another week.

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