That sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once,
And spread it so as to cover her face.

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

Meaning

Cover her dead body with a sheet she embroidered while she was alive. The fact that the woman did her own embroidery indicates her low economic status; people of any means at all did not do their own needlework. The covering of her face, the poem’s first concrete reference to a funeral, could also represent the need for the harsh truth of death to be concealed, and ultimately made casual, which is a motif evoked throughout the whole poem. Instead of fetishizing death, Stevens calls for the wake to be a simple and mundane affair.

The “fantails” probably relate to the peacocks found elsewhere in Stevens' early poems (particularly “Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks” and “Domination of Black”), in which they’re associated with both the vibrancy and violence of life and the dread of death.

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