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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Wallace Stevens's poem The Emperor Of Ice-Cream


  1. Kay says:

    In response to two earlier comments: 1. That the boys and wenches are having sex is reading something into the poem that is not there and cannot be supported. 2. That the missing three knobs symbolize the missing trinity in this home is also a wild idea. Stevens did not believe in “God” so it would most likely be unimportant to him whether or not this woman was a Christian.

  2. Britt says:

    This poem has such a deeper meaning if you truly take the time to analyze it I love Nicks comment on the trinity idea never thought of it that way my favorite line is let be be the finale of seem meaning let things be the way they look and thats the end of it the main idea of the poem in my interpretation is live live to the fullest like icecream it always melts so enjoy it while you can the only ruler of anything is death.

  3. Nick says:

    This poem reveals that only a few things that are certain in life, and “seeming” does not always mean “being”. The setting is a funeral wake and the theme (hedonism) is conveyed by the fact that the woman in the casket is desregarded as the visitors pursue their own selfish desires. The muscular man whipping up “concupiscent curds” symbolizes the basic human satisfactions of lust and ice cream (i.e. a food that we eat simply because of the delicious taste). Also, the dresser lacking 3 glass knobs is representative of the trinity, absent in this household.

    truly a beautiful poem with much more to interpret if you take the time.

  4. Ben says:

    I believe this poem is a mixture of death and hedonism. As others already noted, there is a funeral scene but there is also much more… You have a muscular man whipping up concupiscent (lust filled) curds – probably having sex – in the kitchen, while girls and boys dressed as they should, bring flowers in last month’s newspapers. And all of this happens to give a finale to the dead woman in the second stanza.

    So already there is death and pleasure mixed in together. Moreover, look at the emphasis on ice cream, a food that exists for no other reason than it tastes good. And if you think about it, since its introduction to cuisine it has been the ultimate symbol of hedonism.
    The poem claims, “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.” Hedonism is the true authority.

    The funeral happens to recognize a woman’s death, yes, but let’s not ignore the party in the back, the sex in the kitchen and the glory of ice cream. The people recognize death, but at the same time (perhaps for that very reason) they celebrate the pleasure and experience of living.

    There is no life after death but there is life this side of death – enjoy it.

  5. Lynda says:

    I like this poem….it was hard to interpret at first but after many reading came to the conclusion that he is at a funeral of a dead woman, and back in that time negro funerals had a tradition of serving ice cream at these funerals…..if anyone has a deeper explanation please post it…..I would love to read about this poem…

  6. jo says:

    there should be more black poets on this is

  7. John Mark Evans says:

    I cannot believe I am the first to comment on this poem. It is fabulous. The author is incredible. Please all…read it. I want as my epitaph: “Let Be Be Finale Of Seem” John Evans

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