Length: 1 minute, 25 sec
Reader: Alan Davis-Drake
The poem: The scene is of a funeral. The corpse, an old woman, is covered by a sheet that doesn't quite fit her body. People come to pay their respects and drop off flowers, but there's an air of dressed-up shabbiness about the whole affair. Unusually for a funeral, a man is serving ice cream.
The poem is about the finality of death ("let be be the finale of seem"), yet the titular ice cream emperor lends a bit of ridiculousness that keeps it from being maudlin. Stevens is able to keep the tone of a potentially depressing poem playful through his alliteration and attention to detail ("flowers in last month's newspapers"). This is the kind of funeral I want to be remembered by some day -- one that does not deny the reality of death, but suggests a metaphor for life as ice cream: sweet while it lasts.
The reader:Alan Davis-Drake, as I've said before, is a professional-sounding reader. He reads the words carefully, with an ear for pauses and emphasis. This poem comes from a Librivox collection of Wallace Stevens poems all read by Davis-Drake. If you like this one, I recommend the entire collection.
Photo from Flickr by iMaxx. Creative Commons license: attribution, no derivative works.