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The Majesty of The Emperor of Ice-Cream: A Summary of Wallace Stevens’ Poem

The Majesty of The Emperor of Ice-Cream: A Summary of Wallace Stevens’ Poem

Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a masterpiece of modernist literature that explores themes of life, death, and the beauty of the everyday. Through vivid imagery and layered symbolism, Stevens creates a world that is both familiar and mysterious, inviting readers to contemplate the nature of existence and the power of art to transcend it. In this article, we will provide a brief summary of the poem and explore some of its key themes and motifs.

Background Information

Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” was first published in 1922 in his collection “Harmonium.” Stevens was an American modernist poet who is known for his complex and philosophical poetry. “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is one of his most famous and widely anthologized poems. The poem is written in free verse and consists of two stanzas, each with eight lines. The title of the poem is a metaphor for the power and beauty of life, which Stevens believed could be found in the most unexpected places. The poem is full of vivid imagery and uses language in a playful and unconventional way. It is a celebration of life and a reminder that even in the face of death, there is beauty to be found.

Overview of the Poem

Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a complex and multi-layered work that explores themes of life, death, and the nature of reality. The poem is divided into two stanzas, each of which presents a different scene and set of characters. The first stanza describes a wake, where mourners gather to pay their respects to the deceased. The second stanza takes place in the kitchen, where the servants are preparing a dessert for the wake. Throughout the poem, Stevens uses vivid imagery and rich language to create a sense of both beauty and decay. The poem’s title, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” is a metaphor for the power and majesty of life, even in the face of death. Overall, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a powerful and thought-provoking work that continues to captivate readers today.

Structure and Form

The structure and form of Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is unique and complex. The poem is divided into two stanzas, each with eight lines. The first stanza sets the scene of a wake, while the second stanza shifts to a description of the titular emperor of ice-cream.

Stevens’ use of language and imagery is also noteworthy. The poem is filled with vivid descriptions and metaphors, such as the “concupiscent curds” of the ice-cream and the “horny feet” of the boys who carry the coffin. The language is often playful and ironic, as Stevens subverts traditional funeral imagery with his descriptions of the ice-cream and the boys’ “frigid whiteness.”

Overall, the structure and form of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” contribute to its overall impact and meaning. The poem’s unique structure and language help to create a sense of tension and contrast between the mournful setting of the wake and the joyful celebration of life represented by the ice-cream.

Analysis of the Title

The title of Wallace Stevens’ poem, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” is a striking and intriguing one. At first glance, it seems to be a paradoxical combination of two very different things: the grandeur and power of an emperor, and the cold, transitory nature of ice cream. However, upon closer analysis, it becomes clear that the title is not meant to be taken literally. Rather, it is a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life and the power of the human imagination to create beauty and meaning in the face of mortality. The use of the word “emperor” suggests a sense of authority and control, while the reference to ice cream evokes a sense of pleasure and indulgence. Together, these elements create a sense of tension and contrast that is central to the poem’s themes of life, death, and the human experience. Ultimately, the title serves as a powerful symbol of the human capacity for creativity and imagination, even in the face of the inevitability of death.

Interpretation of the First Stanza

The first stanza of Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The opening line, “Call the roller of big cigars,” immediately creates a sense of grandeur and luxury. The roller of cigars is a skilled artisan, and the fact that they are rolling “big” cigars suggests that they are creating something of great value and importance.

The second line, “The muscular one, and bid him whip,” introduces the idea of physical strength and power. The use of the word “muscular” emphasizes the physicality of the roller, and the command to “whip” suggests that they are in control and able to exert their will over others.

The third line, “In kitchen cups concupiscent curds,” is more difficult to interpret. “Concupiscent” means lustful or passionate, and “curds” are a type of dairy product. Some readers have interpreted this line as a reference to sexual desire, while others see it as a metaphor for the pleasures of life.

Overall, the first stanza of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” sets up a contrast between power and pleasure. The roller of cigars represents strength and control, while the “concupiscent curds” suggest a more sensual, indulgent side of life. This contrast will continue throughout the poem, as Stevens explores the relationship between power and pleasure, life and death.

Meaning of the Second Stanza

The second stanza of Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a continuation of the theme of the first stanza, which is the juxtaposition of life and death. The stanza begins with the line “Let be be finale of seem,” which can be interpreted as a call to accept reality as it is, rather than trying to make it appear different than it is. This line is followed by the description of the “wenches” who are preparing the room for the wake. The use of the word “wenches” is interesting, as it suggests a certain level of informality and lack of respect for the dead. However, this is not necessarily a negative thing, as it can be seen as a celebration of life and the idea that death is not the end. The stanza ends with the line “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream,” which is a powerful statement that suggests that death is the ultimate ruler, and that we should embrace it rather than fear it. Overall, the second stanza of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a continuation of the themes of the first stanza, and it reinforces the idea that life and death are intertwined, and that we should celebrate both.

The Third Stanza and Its Significance

The third stanza of Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a pivotal moment in the poem. It is here that the speaker shifts from describing the scene of the wake to making a bold statement about the nature of life and death. The stanza begins with the line “Let be be finale of seem,” which can be interpreted as a call to accept reality as it is, rather than trying to make it something it is not. This line is followed by the assertion that “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream,” which can be read as a commentary on the fleeting nature of life and the ultimate powerlessness of human beings in the face of death. The stanza ends with the repeated phrase “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.” This image of the embroidered sheet covering the face of the deceased is a powerful one, evoking both the finality of death and the beauty that can be found even in the midst of sorrow. Overall, the third stanza of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a crucial moment in the poem, encapsulating many of its central themes and ideas.

Symbolism in the Poem

Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a poem that is rich in symbolism. The title itself is symbolic, as it suggests a ruler who is cold and unfeeling, much like the ice cream that he presides over. The poem is full of other symbols as well, such as the “wenches” who are preparing the room for the wake, the “concubine” who is lying in the bed, and the “boys” who are bringing in the flowers.

One of the most striking symbols in the poem is the ice cream itself. It represents the fleeting pleasures of life, which are enjoyed for a brief moment and then quickly melt away. The ice cream is also a symbol of the transience of life, as it is something that is enjoyed in the moment but cannot be held onto forever.

Another important symbol in the poem is the bed where the concubine is lying. This bed represents the final resting place of the dead, and the fact that the concubine is lying in it suggests that she has already passed away. The bed is also a symbol of the cycle of life and death, as it is a place where people are born and where they eventually die.

Overall, the symbolism in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is complex and multi-layered. It adds depth and meaning to the poem, and helps to convey the themes of life, death, and the fleeting nature of pleasure.

Imagery and Figurative Language

Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a masterful example of the use of imagery and figurative language in poetry. Throughout the poem, Stevens employs vivid and unexpected images to create a sense of both beauty and decay. For example, in the opening lines, he describes the room where the wake is being held as “a cold and empty room” that is “dressed in white.” This image of a stark, sterile space sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is filled with similarly striking and evocative images.

Stevens also makes use of figurative language to convey his themes. One of the most notable examples is the repeated use of the phrase “the emperor of ice-cream.” This phrase is both a metaphor for death and a commentary on the transience of life. By comparing death to an emperor, Stevens suggests that it is a powerful and inevitable force that rules over all of us. At the same time, the image of ice cream is a reminder that life is fleeting and should be enjoyed while it lasts.

Overall, the use of imagery and figurative language in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a testament to Stevens’ skill as a poet. Through his use of vivid and unexpected images, he creates a world that is both beautiful and haunting, and through his use of metaphor and other figurative devices, he explores some of the most profound questions of human existence.

Themes Explored in the Poem

The poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens explores several themes that are central to the human experience. One of the most prominent themes is the idea of death and the transience of life. The poem suggests that death is an inevitable part of life and that we should embrace it rather than fear it. This is reflected in the line “Let be be finale of seem” which suggests that we should accept things as they are rather than trying to change them.

Another theme explored in the poem is the idea of beauty and its relationship to death. The poem suggests that beauty is fleeting and that it is often found in unexpected places. This is reflected in the line “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream” which suggests that even something as simple as ice cream can be beautiful in its own way.

Finally, the poem explores the idea of power and its relationship to death. The poem suggests that power is ultimately meaningless in the face of death and that we should focus on living our lives to the fullest rather than trying to accumulate power or wealth. This is reflected in the line “Call the roller of big cigars, the muscular one, and bid him whip in kitchen cups concupiscent curds” which suggests that even the most powerful people are ultimately subject to the whims of fate.

Overall, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a powerful meditation on the human experience and the themes that shape our lives. Whether we are contemplating death, beauty, or power, this poem offers a unique perspective on the world and our place in it.

Relevance of the Poem Today

The Emperor of Ice-Cream may have been written in 1922, but its relevance today is undeniable. The poem’s themes of mortality, the fleeting nature of life, and the power of perception are still as relevant as ever. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with images and information, the poem’s call to pay attention to the small details of life is more important than ever. Additionally, the poem’s celebration of the ordinary and the mundane is a reminder to find beauty in the everyday. Overall, The Emperor of Ice-Cream remains a powerful and thought-provoking work that continues to resonate with readers today.

Stevens’ Writing Style

Stevens’ writing style is often described as complex and layered, with a focus on the interplay between language and meaning. He was known for his use of vivid imagery and metaphor, as well as his ability to create a sense of musicality in his poetry. In “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” Stevens employs a range of poetic techniques to create a rich and evocative portrait of life and death. From the opening lines, the poem is suffused with a sense of mystery and ambiguity, inviting readers to explore its many layers of meaning. Whether you are a seasoned reader of Stevens’ work or a newcomer to his poetry, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Comparisons to Other Poems by Stevens

In comparison to other poems by Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” stands out for its use of vivid imagery and unconventional structure. While many of Stevens’ other works explore abstract concepts and philosophical ideas, this poem focuses on the mundane details of a funeral and the celebration of life that follows.

In contrast to “The Idea of Order at Key West,” which is characterized by its musical language and contemplative tone, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is more playful and irreverent. The poem’s use of colloquial language and unexpected juxtapositions creates a sense of whimsy that is absent from many of Stevens’ other works.

Similarly, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and “Sunday Morning” both explore themes of nature and spirituality, but they do so in a more traditional manner. “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” on the other hand, subverts expectations by presenting death as a joyful occasion rather than a somber one.

Overall, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a unique and memorable addition to Stevens’ body of work, showcasing his versatility as a poet and his ability to find beauty in unexpected places.

Critical Reception of the Poem

The Emperor of Ice-Cream has been widely praised for its unique style and imagery. Critics have noted the poem’s use of juxtaposition, with the mundane and the sublime placed side by side. Stevens’ use of language has also been lauded, with his playful and inventive wordplay adding to the poem’s overall effect. However, some have criticized the poem for its lack of clear meaning or message, with some arguing that it is too abstract and difficult to interpret. Despite this, The Emperor of Ice-Cream remains a beloved and influential work in the world of poetry.

Historical Context of the Poem

Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” was written in 1922, a time when the world was still recovering from the devastation of World War I. The poem reflects the cultural and social changes that were taking place during this period, particularly in the United States. The Roaring Twenties, as the decade came to be known, was a time of great social and cultural change, with new ideas and attitudes emerging in art, literature, and music. Stevens’ poem reflects this changing cultural landscape, with its unconventional structure and use of language. The poem also reflects the growing sense of disillusionment and cynicism that many people felt in the aftermath of the war, as they struggled to come to terms with the loss of life and the destruction of their world. Overall, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a powerful reflection of the historical context in which it was written, and a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the spirit of its time.

The Role of Death in the Poem

Death plays a significant role in Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream.” The poem opens with the image of a dead woman lying in her bed, surrounded by mourners. However, the tone of the poem is not one of sadness or mourning, but rather one of celebration and acceptance of death as a natural part of life. The title itself, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” suggests a certain grandeur and power associated with death.

Throughout the poem, Stevens uses vivid imagery to convey the idea that death is not something to be feared, but rather something to be embraced. The ice cream, which is a symbol of pleasure and enjoyment, is juxtaposed with the dead woman, suggesting that even in the face of death, life goes on and there is still joy to be found.

The final lines of the poem, “Let be be finale of seem / The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream,” suggest that death is the ultimate reality, and that everything else is just an illusion. The emperor of ice-cream is the only true ruler, and everything else is just a fleeting illusion.

Overall, the role of death in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is to remind us of the impermanence of life and the importance of living in the present moment. Rather than fearing death, we should embrace it as a natural part of the cycle of life.

Religious and Philosophical Themes

Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a complex work that touches on various religious and philosophical themes. One of the most prominent themes is the idea of death and the afterlife. The poem suggests that death is not something to be feared, but rather something to be celebrated. The “emperor” in the title is a metaphor for death, and the “ice-cream” represents the sweetness of life that is enjoyed before death.

Another religious theme in the poem is the idea of resurrection. The line “Let be be finale of seem” suggests that what appears to be the end is actually just the beginning of something new. This idea is reminiscent of the Christian belief in resurrection and the afterlife.

The poem also touches on philosophical themes such as the nature of reality and the meaning of existence. The line “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream” suggests that reality is subjective and that we create our own meaning in life. The poem encourages us to embrace the present moment and find joy in the simple pleasures of life.

Overall, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a thought-provoking poem that explores complex religious and philosophical themes. It challenges us to rethink our beliefs about death, resurrection, and the meaning of life.

Impact of the Poem on Modern Poetry

Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” has had a significant impact on modern poetry. The poem’s use of language and imagery has inspired countless poets to experiment with their own writing styles. Stevens’ ability to blend the mundane with the surreal has become a hallmark of modern poetry. Additionally, the poem’s themes of life, death, and the human condition continue to resonate with readers today. “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” has become a classic of modern poetry and will undoubtedly continue to influence poets for generations to come.