Modernist Approach To The Reality Of Death In Poems The Emperor Of Ice Cream By Wallace Stevens And Stop All The Clocks By W. H. Auden

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Both Stevens and Auden incorporate similar understandings of death, as their poems portray a melancholy tone and the use of irony-based examples related to the characteristics of Modernism.

In Stevens’s poem, “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” he evokes the theme of death, in which one is unable to escape, it is an individual’s reality. As he says, “Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet/ One which she embroidered fantails once” (10-11), this emphasizes that death will come no matter how much you work on materialistic objects, like the sheets. Steven’s creates a playful and ironic tone, where he states “In kitchen cups concupiscent curds/ Let the wenches dawdle in such dress/ As they are used to wear” (3-5), not only demonstrating the ideals of modernist writing, these lines portray the sexual desires of being in a kitchen, where one may converse, flirt, and “eat ice cream”. While, in the second stanza, Steven writes “If her horny feet protrude, they come / To show how cold she is, and dumb” (13-14), where the speaker describes the appearance of the woman, one that isn’t all happiness but rather the truth of what it is like to be dead. In some sense, ice cream and death come hand in hand, where like the human body it is cold and has to come to an end.

While, in W. H. Auden’s poem, “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,” he also portrays the theme of death, although he emphasizes on the emotional side of how the death of a “loved-one” makes him feel. As in the line, “For nothing now can ever come to any good.” (16), which shows that life will never be the same without him, but in some sense, life keeps on going, whether wanted or not. Auden creates a melancholy tone, as he says “Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.” (8), which expresses to the readers the sense of the police being involved and the use of “black cotton gloves” derives from the sense of grief. Even though, this poem can be seen to be quite satirical, for example “Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,” (7), which may show a way that individuals handle death.

In some sense, Auden is mocking that individuals overexaggerate a part of life that is normal. As well, the speaker mentions “I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.” (12), which also implies that like life, “love” is not forever, but rather a temporary feeling until one comes across their last days of their life. Stevens and Auden portray two rather descriptive works, which show a different view of death in a certain situation; whether it be associated with food or grief, death is inevitable.

Steven’s emphasized modernism through his message of symbolism and realism, as he captures the audience through the use of imagery, symbols, and alliteration. Stevens illustrates the use of imagery within the poem to evoke a type of appearance, as the speaker states “Let the wenches dawdle in such dress / As they are used to wear” (4-5), instead of referring to a woman, Steven’s uses “wenches” as though referring to a type of servant which illustrates the wording of modern writing. Even though these lines emphasize a normal day, the speaker hasn’t referred to the viewing that is occurring, where instead of woman wearing the proper attire for a funeral, they are able to dress as they usually do. As well, the speaker says, “Let be the finale of seem” (7), where this line truly depicts who the person is or rather a reality, instead of painting a picture where one would appear to be something they are not.

Symbols also portray a strong image, where the idea of ice cream depicts a vivid image, ice cream can be seen as something of happiness and one that promotes sexual desires from the emotion that this treat brings. As the name of the title, the speaker states, “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.” (8), although the use of “emperor” shows power, the audience senses the happiness by visualizing the ice-cream. The use of emphasizing on ice-cream demonstrates the small things individuals should enjoy in life, before our life comes to an end. Steven also captures a word choice, by using alliterations that use the same letter in his first and second stanza. Two examples of this, is “Let the wenches dawdle in such dress” (4) and “Let the lamp affix its beam.” (15), as these lines create a type of rhythm, where Steven’s tries to create a musical effect to enhance the readers attention, which is what modernist writers wanted to promote. Through this, the use of figurative speech gives rise to perception of modernist views, where reality is an important factor of life.

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Auden’s poem implies particular characteristics of the modernist movement, by the use of satire and the rejection of the romantic views by using imagery, metaphors, and hyperboles. Auden projects imagery by stating, “Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.” (4) this line paints a vivid picture of a funeral taking place, where there will be those who come to see the body and “mourn” the death of a loved one. A second example, is “Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead.” (6), the speaker continues to describe the death of his loved one, where it must be drawn in the sky and the world must be aware of this tragic loss. Auden also illustrates olfactory images, by saying “Prevent the dog by barking with a juicy bone,” (2) where the speaker shows a “juicy” bone so that the dogs desires it in order for it to keep quiet.

The use of metaphors is also seen, as the speaker mentions “He was my North, my South, my East, and West, / My working week and my Sunday rest, / My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song” (9-11), the speaker shows these emotions through the feeling of grief. This person gave life to the speaker, a type of guidance or structure and through the use of these metaphors he explains how valued this person was to make him feel love. In the first stanza, the speaker emphasizes the use of hyperboles, where he mentions “Silence the pianos and with muffled drum / Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.” (4-5), as these lines portray the absolute silence that is necessary to honor the death of the loved-one. The speaker also mentions another important example in the 4th stanza:

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;

For nothing now can ever come to any good. (13-16)

As this portrays how much the speaker is grieving, “stars not wanted” and “dismantle the sun”, all he wants to focus on is how he is feeling emotionally. The speaker wants the world to be placed on hold, but also depicts that with death new beginnings come. Although, the last line portrays that there is no hope for the future, which illustrates the negation of romantic views where there is just the expression of sadness. Auden portrays the raw feelings of emotion, like Steven’s poem, death is a sign of reality that impacts individuals in different ways, but is how life tends to work.

Modernism in the 1890-1950’s creates a new meaning to life’s reality, where the truth about certain situations are meant to be seen as raw and convincing. This movement creates a reinvention of creative use of words forming a story in poetry, words that are not structured. Stevens and Auden demonstrate the true artwork of emphasizing a type of musical rhythm to their work and being seen as greatest poets of the 20th century. Modernism contributes to the idea of “not sugar-coding,” but rather letting those individuals’ sense that like the idea of death, we are all going to experience it, now or in the future.

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