The Emperor of Ice Cream By Wallace Stevens

The Emperor of Ice Cream
When first reading the poem “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens, you can get very confused as to what exactly is happening. With a couple or more readings of the poem you may be able to figure out that the
people described have gathered for a funeral of a deceased woman, but piecing together the meaning that Stevens is trying to portray can be a bit tricky because he switches between different people and objects so quickly in just sixteen lines.
The sixteen lines are divided into two stanzas each with eight lines and no apparent rhyme scheme except for the couplet at the end of each stanza, making the last line of each stanza the same: “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.” Having this rhyming couplet at the end of each stanza adds emphasis to who is the “emperor of ice-cream” and what does he stand for.
The poem starts off with a “roller of big cigars,” which can mean many things. It can be, bluntly, a pimp, or can be a phallic reference. They call upon him to “whip / in kitchen cups of concupiscent curds.” Concupiscent means lustful, so the man is either having sex in the kitchen or the ice-cream is a symbol of pleasure. Ice-cream can be thought of as a symbol of pleasure because it has no real purpose than to just taste good, which is why we eat it.
We read on and we see boys bringing flowers for the deceased woman, but in “last month’s newspapers” as opposed to a vase, showing that the funeral isn’t much of a big deal to the people who are attending. Then the first stanza ends with “Let be be finale seem / The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream” meaning you must forget all appearances and only think of the reality. The only truth is “ice-cream” or pleasure.
Stevens continues to use the ideology of hedonism, a school that argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good, how everyone seeks out pleasure by comparing out much more pleasure can be gained as opposed to pain. The next stanza continues with this idea. The attendees pull out a sheet “from the dresser of deal.” Deal meaning cheap wood meaning they are likely impoverished. Adding to that, Stevens says that the dresser is “Lacking three glass knobs.” So the people of the poem are not very wealthy. They do not have many pleasures of life, the only pleasure they have is sex.
The poem ends with a rhyming couplet: “Let the lamp affix its beam / The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.” The lamp shows that the attention is no longer on the deceased woman but now it is changing to the attendees. They are living for the moment, and the only thing that “seems” real, or worth it, is the “emperor of ice-cream.” So even at a funeral, they seek pleasure to overcome any pain they have endured.

The Emperor of Ice Cream
By Wallace Stevens
Published in 1922
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent1 curds.2
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 fantails3 once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny4 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. 

1...concupiscent: Sensual; appealing to the senses
2...curds: Coagulated milk. Curds consist of the solid part; the watery part is whey. . . . fantails: Deal is wood, either pine or fir. There could be a double meaning here. The second is that the dresser deals out the accoutrements of an impoverished woman, including a sheet on which she embroidered images of pigeons or even peacocks (fantails). Obviously, the woman opened the dresser often, for now three pulls (glass knobs to open the drawers) are missing. 
4...horny: having calluses

Examples of Alliteration
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds
dresser of deal
her horny
Let the lamp

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