April 1 Wallace Stevens: The Emperor of Ice Cream

This is one of those poems that test me a bit since I have a hard time interpreting it. I love it none-the-less, there is something playful and mischievous in its tone. But underneath that tone there is something colder, more frightening.

This is another poem embedded in the “Saying and Suggesting” chapter, so what it says on the surface sounds more like a child’s chant, something silly and nonsensical, and, hey, ice cream. But keep in mind, children’s poems are often thinly disguised horror stories.

We all remember “ring around the rosie/pocket full of posies/ ashoo ashoo/ we all fall down!” That’s about the black plague, yet all little girls at sometime or another join hands and chant it, then fall and giggle. “London Bridge is falling down” is about imprisoning a woman (I’m thinking someone royal who was vying for the throne). “Take the key and lock her up.”

I like that “Emperor” is similar to a child’s poem and has what seems to be a thinly disguised as a protest, or perhaps just a warning to those who might encounter, “the muscular one… the roller of big cigars.” He seems to be the one with all the power as he is muscled and is whipping rather large (voluptuous) curds. But the woman in the beginning appears to be dead in the end and to have been for hire at the beginning (“wenches dawdle in such dress” – wenches aren’t known to dress conservatively). A discrepancy in power between the sexes? That’s what it suggests to me.

He’s not a warm guy if he is the emperor of ice cream, something delicious and creamy, but cold. Perhaps ice cream being sweet means that he’s attractive. Or perhaps it being a child’s treat means that he is immature, a brute. Perhaps he lures the innocent with it (“got some candy, little kid”). But the connotation that sticks out the most is that it is cold; a word that gets mentioned in the second stanza (and there are glass nobs – glass is often compared to ice and is the word for ice in French, a glazier is a glass installer). Oh, and there’s that whole dead body on a slab thing that might refer to lifelessness of the word “cold”. But cold also means without emotion, the word calculating is often paired with it. It almost makes me wonder, is the roller of the big cigars the one that might have done the deed? Perhaps this is a Jack the Ripper child’s poem. Ashoo! Ashoo! We all fall down.

The Emperor of Ice Cream

by Wallace Stevens

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscluar one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups Concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dwadle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


About penneloppe

I like to write horror, dark fantasy and crime fiction. Sometimes, I'll write science fiction, but usually I like to write science fact. I also write screenplays and stage plays. My day job is office work. I live in Seattle and I have a cat.
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