The Emperor of Ice-Cream

by Wallace Stevens
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Last Updated on October 17, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Wallace Stevens's very brief poem of only two stanzas "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" still depicts a number of characters. Of these, there are two main and many minor figures. But none are ever given proper names, and the minor ones are simply groups of people. The Emperor of Ice-Cream, also called the roller of big cigars, is the one who enjoys all of life and takes every pleasure from it he can. He is described as muscular, proud, and strong; it is almost implied, by the end of each stanza, that he is to be imitated. This figure is much more imaginary than real; perhaps anyone can truly be an emperor in this regard.

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The Dead Woman

Another character is the unnamed woman who has just died. It is her funeral the poem describes. At her funeral, people bring flowers that are wrapped in old newspapers. This is the event that the ice cream has been prepared for, it seems. It seems that the woman made her life as colorful as she could, evidenced by her embroidering her plain sheets with birds or fish. She is cold from death, and her feet stick out from beneath the embroidered sheets she made that became her funeral shroud. There is a light that shines upon her at the funeral. The woman serves as a reminder of mortality. We are subject to the same fate, so it is up to us to seize our ice cream-having moments. There are no guarantees, and this woman is an important reminder of that throughout the poem. 

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Latest answer posted February 20, 2014, 11:24 pm (UTC)

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The Boys

There are unnamed groups of boys who bring the flowers wrapped in old newspapers to the funeral service. The newspapers are from last month, indicating that time passes unwaveringly.

The Wenches

Additionally, there are unnamed groups of young girls or women, called wenches, who dress colorfully not only at the funeral but at every occasion—and for all of life. This is their usual fashion, so it seems. They seem to be involved in the kitchen preparation of the first stanza in some capacity.

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