“The Emperor of Ice-Cream” is a short but intensely compacted poem of sixteen lines, divided into two stanzas. The title reflects the irony and complexity of the poem as a whole, perhaps suggesting that humans are no more resistant to death than ice cream is to the sun. The poem is filled with the visual imagery, wordplay, humor, and thematic tension common to Wallace Stevens’s poetry.
The poem is written in the third person, seemingly by someone who is assembling a group of people both to create and to attend a wake (it is common in some cultures to have a celebration of the life of the person who has died, with food and drink, after a time of mourning) for a poor woman. In stanza 1 there is a call for a person muscular enough to whip up desserts by hand; evidently there is not enough money for an electric mixer, let alone someone who would be paid to cater the food. The desserts will have to be served in kitchen cups; there is no fine china or crystal. The common people who will attend will come in their everyday clothes, rather than formal attire; the flowers will be brought in last month’s newspapers, rather than in vases, or as wreaths or other floral arrangements. All these details suggest that there is nothing fancy or special about death and its aftermath; indeed, in this poem, death is so ordinary as to be shocking and unusual rather than trite, because Stevens avoids the euphemisms and denials that often accompany the details and...
(The entire section is 457 words.)