Out of the Lock-Up

Michael Wood

Asked in 1933 what his favourite among his own poems was, Wallace Stevens said he liked best ‘The Emperor of Ice-Cream’, from Harmonium (1923). The work ‘wears a deliberately commonplace costume’, Stevens said, ‘and yet seems to me to contain something of the essential gaudiness of poetry’. He didn’t remember much about writing the poem except ‘the state of mind from which it came’: ‘I dislike niggling, and like letting myself go.’ I don’t think this means he never niggled, always let himself go – rather the opposite. The poem conjures up a happy liberation from correction, in poetry and elsewhere, and gaudiness and freedom are seen to go together.

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