Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream

 Q. Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream


The theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) was an American poet renowned for his distinctive and complex poetry that explored profound philosophical and existential themes. Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Stevens grew up in a family that valued education and culture. He attended Harvard University, where he developed a passion for literature and began writing poetry.

Stevens' first collection of poems, "Harmonium," was published in 1923 when he was 44 years old. This debut work received mixed reviews but laid the foundation for his reputation as a significant modernist poet. Throughout his career, Stevens published several collections of poetry, including "Ideas of Order" (1936), "The Man with the Blue Guitar" (1937), "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" (1942), and "The Auroras of Autumn" (1950).

Wallace Stevens' poem "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" is a vivid and enigmatic work that delves into the complexities of life, death, and the transient nature of existence. Written in 1922, the poem presents a contrast between the banality of everyday life and the inevitability of mortality. Through a series of richly symbolic images and juxtapositions, Stevens explores the idea that life's fleeting moments should be cherished, and death should be accepted as an integral part of the human experience.

Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream

I. Embracing Life's Mundanity:

The opening lines of the poem set the stage for its exploration of life's ordinary and mundane aspects:

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

The imagery of the roller of cigars and the muscular figure performing the task of whipping curds in kitchen cups conveys the everyday activities of regular people. These seemingly trivial tasks evoke the sense of the ordinary and mundane nature of life. Stevens does not romanticize or idealize life; instead, he presents it in its raw form, devoid of grandeur and spectacle.

II. The Symbolic Realm of Ice Cream:

The title itself, "The Emperor of Ice-Cream," serves as a metaphor for the temporal nature of life. The imagery of ice cream, a frozen and fleeting pleasure, signifies the transient moments of joy and delight that one encounters during their lifetime. Just like ice cream, these moments are ephemeral and must be savored while they last. The poem reflects on the idea that life, like ice cream, melts away quickly, and one must embrace its impermanence.  Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream

III. Death as an Integral Part of Life:

Stevens seamlessly weaves in the theme of mortality throughout the poem, reminding readers of the inevitability of death. One such instance is the description of the old woman in the poem:

"She is not here to beg Passage to afterlife."

The old woman, possibly a widow or a grieving mother, is depicted as someone who has already experienced loss and come to terms with the finality of life. Stevens' choice of words, "She is not here to beg," implies that she has accepted death as a natural progression, and her presence serves as a reminder to the living that death is an inescapable reality.

IV. The Wake and Its Significance:

The second stanza of the poem introduces the image of a wake, a gathering held after a person's death, further emphasizing the theme of mortality:

"Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream."

The lines suggest that life is what it is, and death is the ultimate conclusion of that existence. "Let be be finale of seem" implies that there should be no pretense or illusion about life's impermanence. The phrase "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream" reinforces the idea that death, represented by the cold and fleeting ice cream, is the ultimate ruler, the emperor that governs all life's transient pleasures and experiences.

V. The Dance of Life and Death:

Stevens concludes the poem with a juxtaposition of life and death through the imagery of a woman dancing and a corpse lying on the bed:

"Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream."

The act of dancing symbolizes the vibrancy and vitality of life, while the presence of the corpse signifies death's inevitability. The lamp's beam acts as a spotlight on the dancing woman and the life she embodies, while the presence of death in the same room serves as a stark contrast, highlighting life's temporary nature. The repetition of the line "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream" at the end of the poem serves as a powerful reminder of the overarching theme of mortality. Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream


In "The Emperor of Ice-Cream," Wallace Stevens masterfully explores the theme of transience and mortality, presenting a poignant reminder of life's fleeting nature. The poem encourages readers to embrace the ordinary and mundane moments of life and appreciate the ephemeral pleasures it offers. Death, symbolized by the cold and transient ice cream, is portrayed not as a dark and morbid event, but rather as an integral part of the human experience. Through rich imagery and thought-provoking juxtapositions, Stevens invites us to confront the impermanence of life and to find meaning in the fleeting beauty that surrounds us. "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" continues to resonate with readers, prompting introspection and contemplation about the delicate balance between life and death. Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream.

For PDF and Handwritten

WhatsApp – 8130208920

MA English or UGC NET Preparation


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.