Sunday, 7 August 2011

How The Emperor of Ice Cream reflects my feelings on the debt ceiling debacle

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

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

It became official last week that a solution on the debt ceiling had been reached. We all heaved a sigh of relief but the worst was yet to come. Standard & Poors have reduced the credit rating of the United States from triple A to double A. What this means to ordinary folk like myself is that there never really was a recovery  from the last recession, or at least not one of note and we remain in the same hole that we were in before.

 Without giving away too much personal information, I have to say that I am old enough to remember previous recessions - don’t let my avatar kid you.  Without deliberately poking fun at the statisticians that come out of the woodwork with their pie charts explaining  how bad things are presently, and how much worse  they’re going to get, I believe from experience in times like these, there are two avenues left for the hardy of soul to venture. Either you let yourself be  chastised by the economic experts who just know that we aren’t working  hard enough and have obviously done something wrong which is undoable and as a result we don’t deserve to live. Or, you can find meaning for such catastrophic world events   through imaginative dissonances, allegorical conceits, or perhaps even, metaphoric meanderings. These attack you in the middle of the night, or when you are otherwise not occupied;  when your guard is down. Personally,  I find the latter a far better idea   and a good of use of the literature I was taught in English class at school and University. I ’ll give you an example. I never did understand what The Second Coming by W.B Yeats  was about when I first read it as a bright- eyed- and –bushy- tailed Arts student. With some years of living under my belt (as well as watching the movie version of Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’,) I can understand that poem now,  in ways  not known to me as a student with her entirely dinky, but wholesome  life ahead of her.

Which brings me to the point of this post. ‘The Emperor of Ice Cream’ is a pivotal work of poetry in the 20th century. Written by an insurance executive who could be accused of dabbling with poetry in his spare time, Wallace Stevens has been widely anthologised and stands in the august company of Auden, Eliot and Pound. I was taught this poem as an Arts student, but didn’t understand it much. Or maybe I had a crush on someone who didn’t even know I was alive and I  wasn’t taking any notice. But the title is catchy and I remembered it. Stephen King uses some lines of the poem on the title pages of a number of chapters in Salem’s Lot, his second novel about a small American town taken over by a coven of vampires.(I can’t remember which ones they are and would have to look it up.) And for film buffs, in Sweet Smell of Success Tony Curtis is referred to by another character as being the ‘boy with the ice cream face’ ( whether it’s by Hunsecker’s secretary or the fat policeman, I’m not sure and would have to watch the movie again.)

The poem is most conveniently interpreted as the description of the wake of an old lady and the mourners who attend her  funeral . Let me put it this way. Shouldn’t we be lined up as  mourners just waiting to be invited to the wake of civilisation as we know it today? Even before the Bush debacle, America has been an easy country to dislike, but never has the most powerful country in the world’s credit rating been tampered with and reduced in such a humiliating fashion . Even rabid anti-capitalists and anti-war sympathisers such as I are wondering what the world is coming to. If this is an overly literal interpretation of the poem then I apologise. I am hardly an expert on Stevens.  I do find it interesting  though,  how something like the title of a poem,   can come into my mind at the provocation of something as ephemeral and fanciful, as the end of the world.  After me not thinking about it for years and  I then proceed to  attach to it some meaning I would never have had the werewithal  to originally contemplate.

 I’m going to post the poem as well as these ruminations,  and just hope you get something out of it the same way I have, after years of not taking notice.

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