The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

from Wallace Stevens – The Emperor of Ice Cream on Rap Genius

Meaning

Suggests that there’s no God per se, certainly none awaiting us after death: that the only governing spirit in the world is the spirit of hedonism and sensual pleasure that pervades life. Or, as critic Helen Vendler put it:

What remains after death, in the cold light of reality, is life – all of that life, with its coarse muscularity and crude hunger and greedy concupiscence, that is going on in the kitchen. The only god of this world is the cold god of persistent life and appetite.

Another possible reading: The only constant is the constant of change. Ice cream represents impermanence, the transformation from one state to the another through death. It’s also a physical reminder of the funeral that has stopped the woman’s life and the daily routines of all these people. Today, they’ve become mourners and partakers of the concupiscent eucharist of ice cream.

Yet another possible reading: “ice-cream” as a concept unites the two stanzas and is a way to draw a compass around the experiences both of life (i.e. “cream” and its reflection in the first stanza) and of death (i.e. “ice” and its reflection in this one).

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