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Short poem

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

              1Call the roller of big cigars,
              2The muscular one, and bid him whip
              3In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
              4Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
              5As they are used to wear, and let the boys
              6Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
              7Let be be finale of seem.
              8The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

              9Take from the dresser of deal,
            10Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
            11On which she embroidered fantails once
            12And spread it so as to cover her face.
            13If her horny feet protrude, they come
            14To show how cold she is, and dumb.
            15Let the lamp affix its beam.
            16The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


1] Stevens confessed in letters to William Rose Benét in January 1933 that this poem, offering both the "commonplace" and a certain "gawdiness," took little effort to write (Letters, 263-64).

3] concupiscent: sexually arousing.

9] deal: wood of fir or pine.

11] fantails: according to Stevens himself in June 1939, fantail pigeons (Letters, 340-41).

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Harmonium (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, [September 7], 1923): 95. York University Library Special Collections 734
First publication date: July 1922
Publication date note: The Dial 73 (July 1922): 64
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/14

Form: irregular couplets

Other poems by Wallace Stevens