Study Guide

The Emperor of Ice-Cream Versions of Reality

By Wallace Stevens

Versions of Reality

Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, (4-5)

Why be someone you're not, even at a funeral? Does the dead person really care about the newest trend at Banana Republic? Is a wench really trying to impress anyone, considering her choice in occupation? If you shrugged your shoulders in response to any of these questions, then you probably are beyond at least some of the superficial reality bound up in mere appearances.

Let be be finale of seem. (7)

Wouldn't it be great if your girlfriend or boyfriend just told you what (s)he was really thinking? Can't we just cut all the seeming, false, disguised reality out of the equation completely and cuddle up by a fireplace while eating a bowl of ice cream and discussing our real feelings? Death to seeming and viva being!

[…] that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face. (10-12)

All of that embroidering just so she'd have a pretty handkerchief to cover her face after she's dead. It seems pretty counterproductive, doesn't it? Imagine devoting so much of your energy toward the appearance of something that only becomes useful after you're dead. Imagine, too, if the dead woman would have spent more time doing things that would have been more useful to her while she was still alive—like eating ice cream…

[…] spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb. (12-14)

Why cover her face up? Think about that for a second. The sheet is for the living, not the dead, who would rather not be reminded of the reality of death. Still, even the sheet can't cover up death's ultimate reality here. The dead woman's feet stick, as if to say "Nice try, guys, but let's face facts. These feet? They are the feet of a dead woman." Death's ultimate reality trumps appearances.