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

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

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" is a poem by American modernist poet Wallace Stevens, first published in 1922. It is often cited as one of Stevens' most enigmatic and thought-provoking works. The poem is relatively short but dense with vivid imagery and symbolism. Is on it  several themes, including the transitory nature of life, the relationship between life and death, and the way we confront mortality.

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

Transitory Nature of Life:

One of the central themes of "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" is the transitory and ephemeral nature of human existence. . A startling image opens the poem, "Call the roller of big cigars, / The muscular one, and bid him whip / In kitchen cups concupiscent curds."

This opening image immediately sets a tone of earthly indulgence and physicality. The mention of cigars and "concupiscent curds" invokes a sense of pleasure and sensuality, highlighting the hedonistic aspects of life.

The choice of the word "concupiscent" is significant, as it implies a strong desire or longing. In this context, it suggests that life is characterized by a strong desire for pleasure, which often takes the form of physical and sensory experiences. This pleasure-seeking aspect of life is transient, and the poem seems to suggest that we should embrace these fleeting moments of pleasure and revelry.

Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream-The poem's title, "The Emperor of Ice-Cream," also contributes to the theme of transitory existence. An emperor is typically associated with power, authority, and permanence. However, the fact that this emperor rules over "ice-cream," a temporary and perishable delight, subverts the traditional notion of imperial grandeur. It underscores the idea that even the most powerful figures must confront the fleeting nature of life.

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Stevens uses the concept of "the wheel" to further emphasize the transitory nature of life. The wheel, in this context, suggests the cyclical and repetitive nature of life, with birth and death as integral parts of this ongoing cycle. The poem implies that we should acknowledge the inevitability of death and not shy away from life's fleeting pleasures.

The Relationship Between Life and Death:

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" also explores the complex relationship between life and death. The poem presents life and death as interconnected and intertwined aspects of the human experience. It suggests that we should not separate them but rather acknowledge their coexistence.

The image of the "wench" preparing the body of the deceased in the second stanza is striking. The wench, who is typically associated with domestic and menial tasks, takes on a significant role in the ritual of preparing the body. This juxtaposition of the mundane and the profound highlights the idea that death is an integral part of life and that it should not be feared or shunned.

Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream-In the poem's last stanza, "the dresser of deal" is also introduced. The term "deal" describes a low-cost wood kind that is frequently employed to create basic, throwaway objects. The person who builds the coffin is referred to in this context as the "dresser of deal". Similar to commonplace items made of deal, this image serves to emphasize the idea that death is an inevitable and normal part of life.

The juxtaposition of life and death is further emphasized by the contrast between the two scenes in the poem: the bedroom with the deceased and the kitchen where the ice-cream is being made. The bedroom represents the solemnity and finality of death, while the kitchen symbolizes the ongoing cycle of life, with the ice-cream suggesting enjoyment and pleasure. Stevens suggests that these two aspects of existence are not in opposition but are intertwined, making life richer and more meaningful.

Confronting Mortality:

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" encourages the reader to confront mortality and embrace the impermanence of life. The poem suggests that we should not turn away from the harsh realities of death but should instead acknowledge them and find meaning in the ephemeral nature of existence.

The poem's use of vivid and unconventional imagery serves to underscore this theme. The descriptions of "the bald spot in the middle of the room" and the "horny feet" of the deceased may seem harsh or unfeeling, but they force the reader to confront the physical and tangible aspects of death. By presenting these stark images, Stevens challenges us to acknowledge the unadorned truth of mortality.

The image of the "wench" and the "boys" in the second stanza also reinforces the idea of confronting mortality. They are involved in the practical and necessary tasks associated with death, such as preparing the body and attending the funeral. These roles are not romanticized or idealized; they are presented as part of the human experience that we must all face.

In contrast, the ice-cream-making scene in the kitchen is a celebration of life's pleasures. The phrase "Let be be finale of seem" suggests that we should not be concerned with appearances or illusions but should embrace the reality of life and death. The imperatives in the poem, such as "Call the roller of big cigars" and "Take from the dresser of deal," further emphasize the importance of taking action and fully engaging with life, including its darker aspects.

Irony and Ambiguity:

One of the notable characteristics of "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" is its use of irony and ambiguity. The poem's title, for instance, contains an ironic contrast between the grandeur of an emperor and the simplicity of ice cream. This irony sets the tone for the rest of the poem and invites readers to engage with its themes on a deeper level.

Throughout the poem, there are elements of irony and ambiguity that challenge the reader's interpretation. The word "emperor" itself is a grandiose term, but its association with something as ordinary as ice cream subverts the traditional connotations of imperial power.

Comment on the theme of Wallace Steven’s poem The Emperor of Ice-cream-The poem's language is often vivid and stark, with phrases like "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream" and "And nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." These phrases are open to multiple interpretations, inviting readers to grapple with the complexities of life and death.


"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" by Wallace Stevens is a thought-provoking and enigmatic poem that explores profound themes such as the transitory nature of life, the interplay between life and death, and the necessity of confronting mortality. Stevens invites readers to accept the transience of life, to recognize the unbreakable bond between life and death, and to find significance in the ordinary events that make up our existence through rich and occasionally humorous imagery. The poem serves as a call to engage with the complex facets of human existence and to reflect on how we approach the inevitable reality of mortality. In the face of life's impermanence, Stevens suggests that we should find beauty and significance in both the ordinary and the extraordinary aspects of life.


Who is the author of "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"?

 "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" is a poem written by the American modernist poet Wallace Stevens. It was first published in 1922 and has become one of his most well-known and analyzed works.

What are the main themes of the poem "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"?

The main themes of the poem include the transitory nature of life, the relationship between life and death, and the importance of confronting mortality. The poem invites readers to acknowledge the impermanence of existence and to find meaning in both the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of life.

How does the poem use imagery and language to convey its themes?

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" employs vivid and often ironic imagery to challenge readers' interpretations and engage them with the complexities of life and death. The poem's language is marked by ambiguity and rich, symbolic language, encouraging readers to grapple with its profound themes.

What is the significance of the poem's title, "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"?

The title is both ironic and symbolic. It juxtaposes the grandeur associated with an "emperor" and the simplicity of "ice-cream," subverting traditional associations of imperial power. The title sets the tone for the poem and encourages readers to delve into its deeper meanings.

Why is "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" considered an enigmatic poem?

The poem is often described as enigmatic due to its use of vivid and ambiguous language, its unconventional imagery, and its layered themes. It challenges readers to interpret its meaning and engage with the complexities of life and death, making it a subject of ongoing analysis and discussion in the realm of poetry.

What is the role of irony in the poem?

Irony is a significant aspect of the poem, particularly in its title and the way the poem subverts expectations. The title juxtaposes grandiosity with simplicity, and the poem's language often employs irony to challenge conventional interpretations and engage readers in deeper reflection.



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