Could This Be ‘The Emperor Of Ice-Cream’ (?)

I love this little bear!!! He is so cute!

And I love ice cream – I love it even more scooped into a sweet crisp cone where as it melts haste will demand focus be given a drip here! a sideways-falling there, onto the shirt-front or jeans – or worse. Have you ever had a scoop fall right off onto the ground? Plop!! There is no way to avoid deep mourning for the fallen scoop of ice cream, there is no solace! Unless, of course, it is to quickly get another scoop.

Food asks for celebration, it asks for lightness and joy, it asks for communion. And  yet it can symbolically represent the opposite of these things.

Wallace Stevens’ line from his poem ‘The Emperor of Ice Cream’ is so often used out of context that it is almost a little bit scary.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream

Separated, removed from context, stripped of all but the phrase – it sounds as if we should be worshiping ice-cream, that ice-cream alone can ‘save us’!!!

But here is the line, in context, in the poem by the poet, the poem which gave shape to the fullness of this phrase which likely – would have, just by itself, adorned with little glowing hearts and pen-drawn daisies – been left in the dust of multitudes of words marching out into the world each day.

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle 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.

This ice-cream of Stevens’ was not made in any factory. Nor was it made by some little old quaint person working away at an ice-cream crank. This ice-cream of Stevens’ was made by magic, and it is not ‘just’ cute and tasty. Far from it. It is rich and challenging and painful and questioning. It is life, this ice-cream of Stevens’.

As I said, I love ice-cream. I love too, that it can be much more than the sum of a twitterable line on a ‘status update’. There’s so much more to eat, that way!

wiki on the poem


2 thoughts on “Could This Be ‘The Emperor Of Ice-Cream’ (?)

  1. Now here is a topic that one can get one’s teeth into.

    The Wikipedia entry attempting to interpret the poem feels quite lead-footed.

    The poem is about life, about the innocence of appearance and becoming, of which only its finale is the dead coldness of being. Hence there can be no absolute, imperial authority over flowering life but only over this coldness of being –ironically life’s first food frozen into a cold, still treat — which despite its freezing melts anyway in consumption.

    A light-beam is showy, but is only the fixed outward manifestation of its burning lamp.

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