Tom Simard

Poetry, Music, and Prose

Our Mid-Month’s Poet: Wallace Stevens

The Emperor of Ice Cream by Wallace Stevens

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.

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7 thoughts on “Our Mid-Month’s Poet: Wallace Stevens

  1. The Emperor of Ice Cream is one of my very favorite poems (top 10). I first encountered Stevens (who, and you might know this, was an insurance company executive, although being a poet is where the real money is) as a kid, in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (which is a wonderful book; King’s best). We had to memorize and recite poems in high school (which I hated at the time, but for which I am now mildly grateful), and among the ones I memorized were “Emperor” and some of Stevens’ other work. The other work I found particularly hard to fathom at seventeen (and would still be stumped by “Emperor” if not for footnotes and literary criticism–SPOILER: it’s about death), and haven’t revisited it since. I remember one about a hill in Tennessee. There might have been rabbits.

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    • I would love to hear your top 10 poems. I’ll start giving it some thought and see what I come up with.

      “…although being a poet is where the real money is..”

      Finer words have never been spoken.

      I don’t know King hardly at all. I’ve for sure read at least one of his novels, which I enjoyed but that’s it. And it wasn’t Salem’s Lot. I’ll stick it on that very long list of mine of books to get.

      I would never have thought it about death either.

      I’ll see if I can’t find that one about a hill in Tennessee.

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      • I would love to hear your top 10 poems.

        Well, at least six of them involve a gentleman from Nantucket.

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      • Who didn’t muck it?

        I gave it a little thought and came up with this list, which is, of course, always subject to change:

        September 1, 1939 (Auden)
        The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (TS Eliot)
        Lament (Dylan Thomas)
        London (Blake)
        When I am dead my dearest (Christina Rossetti)
        America (Ginsberg)
        Fiddler Jone (Edgar Lee Masters)
        When I have fears that I may cease to be (Keats)
        When You Are Old (Yeats)
        Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)

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      • Those are, unsurprisingly, some fine choices. I LOVE The Spoon River Anthology (the Spooniad excepted), and could fill up my list with selections from that work (I’ve collected some of my favorite epigrams from SRA), so I’m leaving it out entirely.

        Also, because I had trouble picking between two poems, I’ve listed 11 favorites, in no order and subject to change:

        The Emperor of Ice Cream–Wallace Stevens

        Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner–Randall Jarell

        Ozymandias–Shelley

        me up at does– e e cummings

        Death of the Hired Man–Robert Frost

        Epitaphs of the War–Rudyard Kipling

        If–Rudyard Kipling

        Dulce Et Decorum Est–Wilfred Owen

        Baghdad: On A Bus To The Front–Omar Pound

        Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night–Dylan Thomas

        The Second Coming–Yeates

        Honorable mention: The Nantucket Gentleman—Traditional

        Also, I’m not sure why I’m reminded of a quote from the Simon & Garfunkel song “A Simple Desultory Philippic” (and I may have mentioned this to you before) — “He don’t dig poetry. He’s so unhip, when you say ‘Dylan,’ he thinks you’re talking about Dylan Thomas, whoever he was…”

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      • I could have easily added another of Auden, Yeats, and Thomas, but thought I’d stick to one for each poet, and there are some poets like William Carlos Williams that I didn’t include but probably should have.
        That Owen’s poem gives me shivers just thinking of it. If I’d replace the Pledge of Allegiance with Ginsberg’s America, I think Dulce Et Decorum Est should be the motto of our Department of Defense.
        Nearly half of the poems on your list I’m not familiar with but plan to remedy the situation shortly.

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  2. Well, I read Ozymandias and am suitably impressed. That’s one fine poem. I don’t know Shelley very well though I do like To Wordsworth quite a lot. When I was reading a lot of poetry in my early 20s (a long time ago), Keats was the one who really spoke to me. Anyway, you and the poem have inspired me to read more of Shelley. I’ve just downloaded Volume 1 of his poems free from Project Gutenberg, and it’ll be one of the things I’ll read next year. It seems only appropriate to also get around to The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake that is to the right of me as I type, and I’ve been meaning to get round to forever. Let 2014 be a splendid year for poetry and of discovery.

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