Butter Poem by Elizabeth Alexander Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


The poem “Butter” was written by Elizabeth Alexander. The poem narrates how butter played a prominent role in her life. The main themes behind the poem are childhood memories, nostalgia and innocence. The poem was published in Alexander’s poetry collection named “Body of Life” in 1996.

About the Poet:

Elizabeth Alexander is an American poet, writer and literary scholar. She has served as the president of Andrew W Mellon Foundation since 2018. Some of her poetry collections include Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990–2010American Sublime 2005 which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Antebellum Dream Book 2001. Her memoir, The Light of the World 2015 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


The poem “Butter,” is written in free verse. The term “free verse” refers to a poem which does not follow a certain rhyme scheme or metrical form. The poem “Butter” has 25 lines in total. It is written as a single stanza. 

Point of view:

The poem is written from a first person point of view. So, the speaker of the poem is Elizabeth Alexander.


The poem is written in iambic tetrameter alternatively. There are slight variations in metre in the poem.


Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “Butter” talks about the domination of butter in the poet’s life. The poet acts as a speaker throughout the poem. The poet begins with describing her mother’s fondness for butter. She narrates how her mother used to eat butter plainly. Following the poet tells of the dishes prepared by her mother using butter. The poet filled the poem with mouthwatering dishes. In the last few lines, she talks about her descendants and the reason for her mother to use butter in all the dishes she cooks for them.

Poem Analysis:

Line 1-4:

My mother loves butter more than I do,

more than anyone. She pulls chunks off

the stick and eats it plain, explaining

cream spun around into butter!

The poet begins the stanza by speaking about the love towards the butter. In the first line, she says that her mother loves butter more than the poet. This implies that the poet does not love butter that much. But, her mother loves butter more than anyone. It hints at the fact that her mother is very fond of butter. The speaker’s mother cuts the butter and eats plainly. When the speaker questions her action, she explains that cream is spinning around the butter.

Lines 5-9:

Growing up

we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon

and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,

butter melting in small pools in the hearts

of Yorkshire puddings, butter better

than gravy staining white rice yellow,

As the speaker grows up, she tastes butter in each and every dish that her mother prepares. In this stanza, she mentions dishes like turkey cutlets, green noodles, Yorkshire puddings, and rice with gravy. All these dishes contained butter. Her mother made turkey cutlets which were fried quickly with lemon and butter. She prepared green noodles and added butter along with cheese. Even in the Yorkshire puddings she preferred to add butter which melted and looked like a pool. The speaker’s mother loves butter, so butter plays a more prominent role with rice rather than gravy. 

Lines 10-18:

butter glazing corn in slipping squares,

butter the lava in white volcanoes

of hominy grits, butter softening

in a white bowl to be creamed with white

sugar, butter disappearing into

whipped potatoes, with pineapple,

butter melted and curdy to pour

over pancakes, butter licked off the plate

with warm Alaga syrup.

Here the poet continues to mention many more dishes she ate in her life. Her mother added butter to corn. Though the corn does not glaze naturally, the butter that spread over it made it a glazing corn. In the next few lines, the speaker compares hominy grits to volcano and the melted butter on the top of it to lava. Following lines describe how the speaker’s mother prepares a pancake. First, she mixed the butter with white sugar. Then add this mixture to whipped potatoes and pineapples. When the pancake was removed from the oven, again her mother added butter with alaga syrup.It tasted really good, that they cannot stop licking the plate.

Lines 18-25:

When I picture

the good old days I am grinning greasy

with my brother, having watched the tiger

chase his tail and turn to butter. We are

Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite

historical revision, despite

our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside

out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

chase his tail and turn to butter. We are

Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite

historical revision, despite

our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside

out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

In this stanza, the speaker talks about her childhood days.She recalls the oldays which she spent with her brother. Then, everything they noticed made an illusion of butter. Because they have taken such a quantity of butter in their life. The speaker refers to her African descent by mentioning “Mumbo and Jumbo” children. The speaker hints about the fact that she shares African American parentage. At the final lines of the poem the speaker gives reasons for her mother’s usage of butter in every dish she prepares. It is for the glowing of skin. The speaker concludes the poem by declaring that her mother has succeeded in making their skin glow like a hundred megawatts bulb.