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The Emperor of Ice- Cream- Wallace Stevens- Poem Summary

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Poem Introduction:

The Emperor of Ice-Cream poem by Wallace Stevens was published in the year 1923 in the collection of poetry ‘Harmonium’. This is a short poem with two equal-length stanzas which speak on the funeral arrangement for a dead woman. It is a popular absurd poem that pictures reality by neglecting any sort of illusion from the scene.


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.

The Emperor of Ice-cream poem summary:

The speaker in the first stanza seems to be updated about the death news of an old woman and is responsible for her funeral arrangements. He asks for big strong men to make ice creams out of curds from the kitchen. Then the girls are instructed to wear their mundane clothes and the boys are asked to bring flowers wrapped up in last month’s newspapers. The speaker says “Let be be finale of seem” by which he/she says to let reality overcome the illusions.

In the second stanza, the speaker asks someone to take a bed sheet out of the dead woman’s dresser which is made up of “dale” i.e. a cheap pine wood, and cover her body (with this it is clear that the speaker is closely related to the dead person as he/she has known the presence of bed sheet and dresser details like the lost three glass knobs; it also reflects the wealth status of the dead woman). The speaker asks the 'Someone' to cover her face first and so even if the bed sheet is not enough to cover her legs, those thorny feet will represent how cold and dead she is. Then he/she demands the lamplight to be set near the dead woman.

At the end of both stanzas, the speaker says, “The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream It is a reference from Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare where Claudius says something similar to this. It is “Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots.” (A-4, S3). Though humans are the head of the food chain they end up being food to the microbes in the end. So everything is an illusion all will be nothing a day in reality and it is time to accept that and behave accordingly.

~ Literpretation Team for Education

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