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The Emperor of Ice-Cream

The Emperor of Ice-Cream


by Wallace Stevens

The Emperor of Ice-Cream Theme of Death

This one is pretty clear. "The Emperor of Ice-Cream" takes place at a wake so we know that Stevens is working with questions of life and death. In the case of this poem, death represents a kind of ultimate reality, one that is inescapable no matter how fast your sports car can go. Don't be bummed, though. The poem encourages us to adopt a fundamentally positive approach to life in light of this undeniable reality: live life focused on the moment at hand. While this is pretty hard to do (if we really did that, we'd never have finished writing this paragraph), it can be a good lesson on perspective. Don't get bogged down in superficial stuff because, in the end, none of that nonsense matters. Instead, be attuned to the moment, the way you are when you eat ice cream. Yum! Sounds like some tasty advice. And it's all thanks to death!

Questions About Death

  1. Does the speaker fear death? Why or why not?
  2. How does the concept of an "emperor of ice-cream" help you cope with the reality of death? If it doesn't, why not? 
  3. Should death be embraced as a moment in life, the same way we embrace eating ice cream? Why or why not?
  4. Based on the few clues we get from the poem, what do you think the dead woman's attitude toward death was? Why?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Carpe diem is just a fancy way of saying we need to get up off the couch and stop worrying about what Honey Boo Boo is up to. With this poem, Wallace Stevens would agree.

Easy for you to say, Stevens. He may be "the only emperor," but the idea of the "emperor of ice-cream"—living life for the moment—is not a model that any of us can realistically hope to follow.

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