The Grave of Wallace Stevens

I must admit, I like the idea of Wallace Stevens more than his poetry. He was another poet with a day job, like me, though he was much more successful in the business world, being a vice president at The Hartford insurance company. He lived in Hartford, Connecticut, for most of his life, not far from where I lived for a couple of years before moving out to the suburbs. Apparently Stevens would compose his poetry while he walked to the office every morning then do his revisions in the evening, which was something I would do before I started working from home.

So, returning to Hartford to visit his grave in Cedar Hill Cemetery was very nostalgic. I also drove past several of my old haunts, had brunch at one of my favorite little diners and was even served by the same waiter who took care of me twenty years ago.

My favorite poem of Stevens is The Emperor of Ice-Cream. Who couldn’t love that title? I find the poem itself rather cryptic but sometimes that’s part of the fun of poetry— puzzling it out.

I call out the Emperor of Ice-Cream (and allude to another poem by Ted Kooser whose grave I haven’t yet visited mostly because he’s still alive) in something I wrote a couple of years ago where I was reacting to poets who assert that the best time to write poetry is early in the morning. This is obviously, blatantly false. If you want to read my Early Birds poem, it was published on Susi Bocks’ blog as part of her Short of It series.

About Bartholomew Barker

Bartholomew Barker is one of the organizers of Living Poetry, a collection of poets and poetry lovers in the Triangle region of North Carolina. Born and raised in Ohio, studied in Chicago, he worked in Connecticut for nearly twenty years before moving to Hillsborough where he makes money as a computer programmer to fund his poetry habit.
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21 Responses to The Grave of Wallace Stevens

  1. Cassa Bassa says:

    I love “holding on” 👍💚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. JeanMarie says:

    I think the best part of “The Emperor of Chocolate” is the title.

    And of course, I heartily agree that poetry is best written at night. I’m glad you posted the link to your “The Short of It” page. I’d forgotten how good “Early Birds” is.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. berniebell1955 says:

    First thought – Wallace Stevens – who?

    Next thought – ‘cryptic’ yes indeed. It reads like it’s about laying someone out for a funeral – but – ice-cream? Eh?

    I am a simple soul – this confuses me.

    I like the tree though – trees don’t confuse me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. berniebell1955 says:

    Regarding graves…….


    My spirit will not haunt the mound
    Above my breast,
    But travel, memory-possessed,
    To where my tremulous being found
    Life largest, best.

    My phantom-footed shape will go
    When nightfall grays
    Hither and thither along the ways
    I and another used to know
    In backward days.

    And there you’ll find me, if a jot
    You still should care
    For me, and for my curious air;
    If otherwise, then I shall not,
    For you, be there.

    Thomas Hardy

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been to his grave too, at Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey, though apparently his heart is buried in Stinsford. You’re a lot closer to Dorset than I so I’ll leave that to you.


      • berniebell1955 says:

        You’ll know about what happened to his heart? I’ve never been clear about why his heart was being removed in the first place, but in the process of removing Thomas Hardy’s heart, the doctor was called away. When he got back to his grisly task, the cat had eaten a bit of the heart. The story goes that the cat was then killed and buried with the heart – which I think is very unfair – a cat’s gotta eat – and cat’s…is cats.

        The likelyhood of my going to Dorset again ( Mike’s family used to live there) are slim – I really am knackered – not sure if I’ll go off-island again – meaning Orkney.

        I visit friends graves here – that’s about it.

        And the cairns of the ancestors……

        Liked by 1 person

      • Poor kitty! I’m fine with having my body eaten by other animals after my mind flickers off. Seems natural.


  5. berniebell1955 says:

    The ancient peoples here in Orkney, and in other places and cultures, were quite happy to have the bodies of their people taken to pieces and even maybe some bits lost or eaten by animals and birds. Once the ‘person’ has gone, it was fine for the bones to be separated.

    There is a book, ‘Sky Burial’ by Xinran, in which she writes of the traditional Tibetan method of disposing of the dead by ‘sky burial’, which may seem strange to non-Tibetans, but was entirely accepted in that nation – until China stepped in.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wallace Stevens is unforgettable. His phrases mean more than whatever they mean, if you get what I mean. “I am the Emperor of Ice Cream”: Does he mean for this statement to ring hollow and ironic or was he expressing a paramatrix sense of the absurd. Or, does it just sound cool?

    Sometimes his words occur to me, unbidden: “concupiscent curds”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. The concupiscent curds is the most memorable line from his most memorable poem.

      Which of his other poems would you recommend I read?


      • LIke everyone else, I read one other poem by him but this is the one I know. I thought the poem was more whimsical and uplifting but in a way, The Emperor of Ice Cream is as embittered, pessimistic, nihilistic, cynical, disillusioned, realistic (choose your word) as T. S. Elliot’s “The Waste Land.”
        Both were published in 1922, which makes me think there was some heavy shit going on in the years preceding the poem. World War II and the Spanish flu pandemic were among such events.
        Given certain political parallels, we are due two great poems by two great poets expressing our collective angst and trauma we’ve endured the past couple years. And don’t let me started on inflation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t forget Yeats’ The Second Coming was also about 100 years ago. We’re definitely hitting the same sort of “turning of the age” as they did with this rise of these new authoritarians.

        Liked by 1 person

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