Wallace Stevens, Selected Poetry

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.

Life on a Battleship

                                         I

The rape of the bourgeoisie accomplished, the men
Returned on board The Masculine. That night,
The captain said,
                               “The war between classes is
A preliminary, provincial phase,
Of the war between individuals. In time,
When earth has become a paradise, it will be
A paradise full of assassins. Suppose I seize
The ship, make it my own and, bit by bit,
Seize yards and docks, machinery and men,
As others have, and then, unlike the others,
Instead of building ships, in numbers, build
A single ship, a cloud on the sea, the largest
Possible machine, a divinity of steel,
Of which I am captain. Given what I intend,
The ship would become the centre of the world.
My cabin as the centre of the ship, the centre of
The divinity, the divinity’s mind, the mind
Of the world would have only to ring and ft!
It would be done. If, only to please myself,
I said that men should wear stone masks and, to make
The word respected, fired ten thousand guns
In mid-Atlantic, bellowing, to command,
It would be done. And once the thing was done,
Once the assassins wore stone masks and did
As I wished, once they fell backward when my breath
Blew against them or bowed from the hips, when I turned
My head, the sorrow of the world, except
As man is natural, would be at an end.”

                                         II

So posed, the captain drafted rules of the world,
Regulae mundi, as apprentice of
Descartes:
                  First. The grand simplifications reduce
Themselves to one.
                                  Of this the Captain said,
“It is a lesser law than the one itself,
Unless it is the one itself, or unless
The Masculine, much magnified, that cloud
On the sea, is both law and evidence in one,
As the final simplification is meant to be.
It is clear that it is not a moral law.
It appears to be what there is of life compressed
Into its own illustration, a divinity
Like any other, rex by right of the crown,
The jewels in his beard, the mystic wand,
And imperator because of death to oppose
The illustrious arms, the symbolic horns, the red
For battle, the purple of victory. But if
It is the absolute why must it be
This immemorial grandiose, why not
A cockle-shell, a trivial emblem great
With its final force, a thing invincible
In more than phrase? There’s the true masculine,
The spirit’s ring and seal, the naked heart.
It was a rabbi’s question. Let the rabbis reply.
It implies a flaw in the battleship, a defeat
As of a make-believe.

                                         III

                                     Second. The part
Is the equal of the whole.
                                            The captain said,
“The ephebi say that there is only the whole,
The race, the nation, the state. But society
Is a phase. We approach a society
Without a society, the politicians
Gone, as in Calypso’s isle or in Citare,
Where I or one or the part is the equal of
The whole. The sound of a dozen orchestras
May rush to extinguish the theme, the basses thump
And the fiddles smack, the horns yahoo, the flutes
Strike fire, but the part is the equal of the whole,
Unless society is a mystical mass.
This is a thing to twang a philosopher’s sleep,
A vacuum for the dozen orchestras
To fill, the grindstone of antiquest time,
Breakfast in Paris, music and madness and mud,
The perspective squirming as it tries to take
A shape, the vista twisted and burning, a thing
Kicked through the roof, caressed by the river-side.
On The Masculine one asserts and fires the guns.
But one lives to think of this growing, this pushing life,
The vine, at the roots, this vine of Key West, splurging,
Covered one morning with blue, one morning with white.
Coming from the East, forcing itself to the West,
The jungle of tropical part and tropical whole.”

                                         IV

The first and second rules are reconciled
In a Third: The whole cannot exist without
The parts. Thus: Out of the number of his thoughts
The thinker knows. The gunman of the commune
Kills the commune.
                                 Captain, high captain, how is it, now,
With our affair, our destiny, our hash?
Your guns are not rhapsodic strophes, red
And true. The good, the strength, the sceptre moves
From constable to god, from earth to air,
The circle of the sceptre growing large
And larger as it moves, moving toward
A hand that fails to seize it. High captain, the grand
Simplifications approach but do not touch
The ultimate one, though they are parts of it.
Without them it could not exist. That’s our affair,
That’s the grandiose battleship of yours and your
Regulae mundi . . . That much is out of the way.
If the sceptre returns to earth, still moving, still
Precious from the regions of the hand, still bright
With saintly imagination and the stains
Of martyrs, to be arrogant in our need,
It will be all we have. Our fate is our own:
Our good, from this the rhapsodic strophes flow,
Through prophets and succeeding prophets, whose prophecies
Grow large and larger. Our fate is our own. The hand,
It must be the hand of one, it must be the hand
Of a man, that seizes our strength, will seize it to be
Merely the centre of a circle, spread
To the final full, an end without rhetoric.

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This is an alpha version of That’s Not It, a blog/magazine focusing on political theory, literature and poetry by exploring the limits and interrelationships between these spheres. The magazine’s title refers to French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. This journal was founded by Claes Wrangel (Stockholm) and David Feil (Houston) in December 2006 to inspire a theoretical and analytical dialogue. Reader contributions and comments are readily encouraged.

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