Paraphrase "The Emperor of Ice-Cream."

2 Answers | Add Yours

lit24's profile pic

lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" is from Wallace Stevens' first collection of poems entitled "Harmonium" and published in 1922.

The poem is made up of two stanzas of eight lines each with the last line of both the stanzas being foregrounded by being repeated, "the only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream."

The word "emperor" is a title superior to that of a king and implies unlimited power and grandeur. The emperor enjoyed a semi divine status and was worshipped by the citizens of his empire which usually comprised almost an entire continent. In world history Julius Caesar was  the first person to assume the title of emperor.

The setting of  this poem is the room of  impoverished deceased  woman where her funeral party is about to take place before she is finally laid to rest. The most important character in this poem is not the deceased lady but the strong and "muscular" man, "the roller of big cigars" who manually whips up the ice cream for the funeral guests. The deceased lady is so poor that she does not have an electric ice cream making machine. The irony and the sarcasm is very striking when we contrast a real emperor, his power and territory with that of the "emperor" of this poem - Wallace Stevens' "emperor" is only strong enough to whip up ice cream and his 'territory' is just as big as the room where the funeral party is to take place!

The Scottish poet William Drummond (1585-1649) once remarked "this tragi-comedy called life." The two stanzas contrast life and death. In the first stanza the line "Let be be finale of seem," underscores the importance of life over death: 'let's seem or pretend to mourn, the person is dead and there's no point grieving over her loss, she's not going to come back to life again so let's make the most of the occasion and have a party.' Life is meant to be enjoyed by the "wenches" and the "boys" even on the occasion of the death of an old woman with "horny feet."

The second stanza of the poem not only highlights her poverty - the cupboard made of cheap "deal" wood  with three glass knobs missing and the sheet which is not long enough to cover her feet - but more importantly the lack of respect for the dead person:

If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.

"Dumb" does not just mean that she is dead and cannot speak now but it actually means 'stupid.'  Wallace Stevens seems to say, that the old woman when she was alive has been stupid to enough to think that at her funeral her neighbours would weep and mourn. The reality is exactly the opposite - everyone is enjoying themselves eating ice cream. The final insult is the line, "let the lamp affix its beam," which means 'there is only light in this room and lets not waste it by shining it on the face of the deceased lady, but lets shine it on the "emperor of ice-cream" who has to make the ice cream for every one present.'

farmbrough's profile pic

farmbrough | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I presume you're asking someone to paraphrase this poem. It's not really worthwhile paraphrasing a poem, because it's only sixteen lines long. Paraphrasing an epic poem would be worthwhile, but with a short one such as this, you might as well read the whole poem. This is a poem to be enjoyed for its language and rhythm, not for any narrative that it constructs. Stevens himself said that explaining a poem destroyed its imaginative ambiguity. However, I will have a go:

Allow people who have functions in preparation of food and similar simple tasks do what they do, but the only important thing is the emperor of iced cream.

We’ve answered 317,489 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question