In Wallace Steven's poem, "The Emperor of Ice-Cream," who is the emperor of ice-cream?

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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This poem is about the death of an unnamed woman. It describes the funeral preparations that surround a death - the "wenches" prepare food (ice cream), the boys "bring in flowers", they prepare for the "finale of seem" - that is, the end of her being, the end of life, or what seemed like life. They take something the woman embroidered and wrap her in it, like a shroud. The only thing that is left showing is her feet, a symbol of her life - of who she used to be. All that is left to show that she livedĀ are her "horny feet". It is pretty pessimistic because it implies that all of the funeral preparations are pretty useless because they only show:

To show how cold she is, and dumb.

The "Emperor of Ice Cream" is God. An emperor is a ruler, and by repeating this title, we can get the idea that the only one that can make sense out of death is "The Emperor of Ice Cream". Since Stevens claimed to be an atheist, the God of the poem is probably more like someĀ  Zen concept of an all-knowing spiritual being. Nevertheless, this emperor is the only entity that can transcend death. The rest of us are wrapped up in a shroud with our feet sticking out. I think that the use of the "ice cream" is significant because ice cream is very transient - it melts very easily, it must be eaten fairly quickly if it is to remain ice cream and not sugary milk.

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