The Emperor of Ice-Cream

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

by Wallace Stevens

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.

Summary of The Emperor of Ice-Cream

  • Popularity of “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”: This poem was written by Wallace Stevens, a great American poet. ‘The Emperor of Ice-Cream’ is one of the most famous lyrical poems due to its unique representation and themes of life and death. It comprises the death ceremony of a lady and illustrates how people celebrate the arrival of death.
  • “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” As a Representative of Life and Death: As this poem captures the death scene, the poet speaks how some people see death as part of life. This poem is divided into two equal stanzas. The first stanza does not reveal the main idea as the speaker summons a muscular man to whip the ice cream in kitchen cups. Girls hang out in their everyday clothes and boys arrive with flowers in last month’s newspaper. The second stanza shifts the scene and starts with command about a sheet embroidered with birds to cover the head of an old dead lady. Also, he says that the deceased lady did the embroidery, the cloth is too short as it fails to cover the feet of that lady, implying how lifeless and cold the lady is. The speaker finally commands to fix the lamp toward the dead body. He repeats his words in the light of that lamp and speaks the supremacy of the emperor of ice-cream. All these details suggest that there is nothing extraordinary about death.
  • Major Themes in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”: Transience of life and acceptance of death are the major themes of this poem. The poem illustrates two things; the attitude of the people gathers around the dead body and the state of old woman after death. Instead of being mournful, people are celebrating her death by distributing ice cream. Also, the body of that lady is not wrapped in new clothes. Instead, an old and used sheet is brought to cover her body. The speaker emphasizes the reality of death while comparing it with ice cream, and conveys a message that one should be the ruler of his own life before it melts away.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”

Literary devices are tools used by writers to convey their emotions, ideas, and themes. These devices make texts appealing to readers and provide multiple interpretations. Wallace Stevens has also used some literary devices in this poem to express his ideas about death. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem is given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, sound /i/ in “The muscular one, and bid him whip”.
  2. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. “Ice-cream” symbolizes opportunities that slip away from life. “Embroidered fantails are the symbols of the vainness of earthly endeavors.
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /r/ in “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream” and the sound of /s/ in “Let the wenches dawdle in such dress”.
  4. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /c/ in “In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.”
  5. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five sense. For example, “Call the roller of big cigars”; “In kitchen cups concupiscent curds” and “And spread it so as to cover her face.”
  6. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought or clause that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it moves over the next line. For example,

“On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are two stanzas in this poem each comprises of eight lines.
  2. Octave: An octave is an eight-lined stanza. Here, each stanza is an octave.
  3. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. The poet has used end rhyme in the last two lines of the second stanza. For example, ‘beam’ and ‘cream’.
  4. Repetition: There is a repetition of the verse “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream” which has created a musical quality in the poem.
  5. Refrain: The lines that are repeated at some distance in the poems are called refrain. The verse, “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream” is repeated with the same words, it has become a refrain as it has been repeated in the first and second stanzas of the poem.

Quotes to be Used

The line stated below can be used to tell the stories while children eat ice cream. The same line can be used as an example for an adult to teach the value of life and time.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.