Study Guide

The Emperor of Ice-Cream Speaker

By Wallace Stevens


The voice of the speaker is one of authority. This is a guy who knows the score. Check it out: he knows what's going on in the kitchen. He knows what's going on in the bedroom. He knows the local folk ("the muscular one" and "the wenches"). Most importantly, he knows what this whole wake-scene means.

Perhaps, for that reason, the speaker is such a grand director. Just consider all the orders he gives in the poem: "Call the roller […] bid him whip […] Let the wenches dawdle," etc., etc. Now this is a guy in charge. And what's the point of all this direction? Well, it seems like he's arranging this scene for us to communicate an important message. And, if we had to guess, that message is "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream."

Got it! Thanks for the memo, O great speaker. Of course, you can read more about the significance of this emperor in the "Symbolism" section. What concerns our speaker here is the notion that he's trying to convey an important message to us through the example of this emperor: nevermind the superficial stuff. Be in the moment, every moment, just like you're eating an ice cream cone.

Naturally, this speaker is not going to come right out and put it so flatly for us. Rather, he uses a casual approach, bringing us along through the poem in a way that engages us, and provokes us to reflect upon the way we choose to live our own lives: all about the appearance, or in the moment. That's a big thing to consider, and we have this speaker—the head honcho in charge—to thank for it!