King Stirs Up Stevens

I forgot how much I loved the poems of Wallace Stevens. One of his best known poems (and my favorite), “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” had completely fled my conscious mind until I checked out a copy of Salem’s Lot. In the novel author Stephen King  uses the poem at the beginning of the story’s core section, and in fact makes it the title of that section.

Here’s the poem for those who have not read it, or need a refresher:

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.

‘Salem’s Lot pits a small New England town against the ancient evil of vampires and their minions. In only his second novel, Stephen King delivered an amazing page turner, and he wrapped its most essential bits in the cryptic verse of one of America’s greatest poets. The vibrant (if imperfect) life of a small town like Jerusalem’s Lot can be likened to the powerfully vital images in the poem’s first stanza, and this stands wonderfully juxtaposed against the looming reality of death in the second.

I don’t think  Stevens’ haunting verses will elude my over-crowded mind again, but this does make me wonder what else might resurface from the murky depths of my subconscious.


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One response to “King Stirs Up Stevens

  1. Pingback: Chills Abound With Horror Favorites | Eleventh Stack

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