“The Emperor of Ice Cream” by Wallace Stevens : Summary and Questions

“The Emperor of Ice Cream” by Wallace Stevens : Summary and Questions

“The Emperor of Ice Cream” by Wallace Stevens

Vocabulary

concupiscent – lusty; full of desire protrude – stick out

affix – fasten

1. What kind of ceremony is taking place in this poem?

A wake is being held.

2. The speaker suggests that the girls wear their everyday dresses and that the boys bring flowers “in last month’s newspapers.” What does this say about his attitude towards ceremony and propriety?

Answers may vary. Example: The speaker scoffs a bit (but not scornfully) at the formal ceremony and he sees no reason to dress up the fact that a woman is dead.

3. What do you think the speaker means by the line “Let be be finale of seem”?

Answers may vary. Example: The speaker means that we should stop worrying about how things seem or look to others and simply let them be as they are.

4. What do you think the speaker means by the poem’s refrain of “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream”?

Answers may vary. Example: This assertion is related to the speaker’s suggestion that we let “be be finale of seem.” We invest emperors and ceremonies with ridiculous power and meaning, taking them too seriously. The speaker is pointing this out. Alternative interpretations abound:

• despite death, the sweetness of life still exists

• the only important thing is life

• the only important thing is death

• both life and the end of life are to be savored etc.


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