(October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955 / Pennsylvania / United States)

The Emperor Of Ice-Cream

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.

User Rating: 4,3 / 5 ( 57 votes ) 17

Comments (17)

A compelling poem, which is actually about poverty-old clothes, 'last month's newspapers', 'the dresser of deal'. However, 'The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream'. Poorer children tend to love ice-cream. An obscure, but highly successful poem.
: Let be be finale of seem...............? ? a curious? 2nd stanza, to say the LEAST! !
I wish I was a member of this site back in 2007 or so- -I have learned so much reading these people's comments below! So much more informative than beautiful and I like this kind of remarks that flood the comments these days. I think these comments below say more and say it better and clearer than I so I shall just comment on the commentators that they are a brilliant group and obviously love the written word. We who love poetry salute you wherever you are.
I should have added to my comment that if the poem was written around the date of publication (1923) then it would have been during prohibition. Perhaps ice cream was the best hospitality that could be legally offered in those times.
To my mind, this is a series of commands or orders issued by the principle female and elderly mourner - perhaps a grief stricken relation unfamiliar with the friends and acquaintances of the deceased - at the wake of a recently dead female. Perhaps Stevens witnessed this incident in his youth. Poor folks are turning up in their ordinary street clothes to pay their respects, and some clutch cheap bunches of flowers. These informalities are acquiesced to. The roller of big cigars is referred to in those terms because the mistress of ceremonies knows only his trade but not his name, as is so often the case with neighbours. Someone is directed to find a specific sheet to partly shroud the corpse, and its whereabouts are described. The worthiness of the sheet for this role being that it had been embroidered by the deceased herself. And if too short for purpose, it reminds all beholders that they are in the presence of death. 'Let be' be finale of seem. Allow things to take their course; this is life and death in the raw. Seem, in this context meaning 'conduct'. As in unseemly behaviour. The only emperor is the ice cream that will offer some small comfort to all those present. Nothing else can.
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