The Emperor of Ice-Cream

by Wallace Stevens

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How does "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" advocate for appreciating the present?

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“The Emperor of Ice Cream” is a poem that can be read on several levels and is probably best understood as an existential commentary on the fleeting nature of life and so a testament to the rationality of a certain Epicureanism. However, to reduce the poem to a statement of values, we can also argue that “The Emperor of Ice Cream” is a poem simply advocating an appreciation of the “here and now.”

The dead woman of the second stanza and her cold, protruding feet make a contrast to the lively and animated figures of the first stanza. The poem suggests that the light of the lamp illuminates this stark difference between the insensible dead and those who celebrate life and enact it.

In the command, “Let the lamp affix its beam,” the narrator demands that this contrast be recognized, directly and clearly, so that there is no confusion as to who rules the day, who commands the riches of life.

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