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"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" by Wallace Stevens (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

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Uploaded on Dec 21, 2008

One explanation is that this actually happened: an old lady died suddenly. The poem is about the state of shock that follows a catastophic event. So, from the clues, the poet is recalling the death of a poor, possibly black, woman.

"The Emperor of Ice-Cream" is a local character, who is muscular, rolls big cigars and caters for events such as wakes and funerals. Maybe he calls himself Emperor because he runs an Emporium. Maybe he got the title as a joke on happier occasions. Here and now he represents death, the only Emperor.

When a shocking event happens it is a while before the mind accepts it as real. Until then it seems surreal. like a painting or a tableau. Thoughts are disordered and emotions can be absent or inappropriate. He lists his observations, which confirm or deny the tragedy. For instance, it seems inappropriate to serve treats such as ice-cream - concupiscent curds - in the circumstances. He arranges the scene in his mind and examines it. "Let the lamp affix its beam", is the final touch in the laying out of the tableau.

"Let be be finale of seem" is the decision to make an effort to accept the scene as real. Only when he accepts that the death is real can he allow himself to feel and express grief.

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