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


The poem “Equinox” is written by Elizabeth Alexander. It is a short and meaningful poem about death. This poem was published in 1996 in Elizabeth’s second poetry collection named “Body of Life“. Most of the poems in this collection deal with the poet’s personal and family experiences. This particular poem talks about the poet’s grandmother who is nearing her death and compares her with bees.

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 “Equinox” is a free verse poem. The term “free verse” refers to the poem which does not follow a specific rhyme pattern or metrical form.


The poem is divided into three stanzas.Each stanza consists of 5 lines. A stanza that is divided into a set of five lines is termed as quintains.

Point of view:

The poet has written the poem “Equinox” from a first person point of view.Thus, the poet is the speaker of the poem.

Meaning of the Title:

The term “equinox” refers to the time, where the sun is directly above the equator. It occurs twice in a year. It is referred to as spring and fall equinoxes. They seem to be the beginning of the seasons. On this particular day both the northern and southern hemisphere get to receive the same amount of sunlight. 


The poet begins the poem by describing the actions of bees during the season of September. As the bees sense their impending death due to lack of food. Their mind makes them get frustrated, so they fly in a loop motion. So, this state of mind is compared with the poet’s grandmother who had suffered from a stroke. The family didn’t expect her recovery. Two years have passed but similar to bees, the grandmother shows frustration. So, the poet along with her family are waiting for her lifetime to end. 

Poem Analysis:

Stanza 1

Lines 1-5:

Now is the time of year when bees are wild

and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped

loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants

in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.

I have found their dried husks in my clothes.

In this first stanza, the speaker describes how bees act erratically during the equinox time of the year. The term “eccentric” is usually connected with human beings. But, here the speaker is using this term to personify bees. They start to fly fast in a loop manner. These actions of bees occur during the late September of the year. The speaker ends this stanza by tellings, that she found their dead husks in her clothes during this time. 

The bees can sense that they are running out of food in the future. They have the ability to sense the change of seasons. So, with anxiety they react in an unnatural way to their impending danger in future.

Stanza 2

Lines 6-10:

They are dervishes because they are dying,

one last sting, a warm place to squeeze

a drop of venom or of honey.

After the stroke we thought would be her last

my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped

In the beginning of the second stanza, the speaker personified bees using the term “dervishes”. The term “dervish” refers to things that spin like a toy. Here, the speaker mentions the circular motion of bees. The bees know about their impending danger and are in an urge to squeeze a drop of venom or honey. Now, the speaker of the poem starts comparing this state of bees with her grandmother and a stroke from which she suffered. The speaker and their family thought that the grandmother was going to die, yet she came back and slapped a nurse across her face.

Stanza 3

Lines 11-15:

a nurse across the face. Then she stood up, 

walked outside, and lay down in the snow. 

Two years later there is no other way 

to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light 

as an empty hive, and she is breathing.

In the third stanza the speaker describes the actions of grandmother after the stroke. She started showing the frustrations similar to bees like slapping the nurse. She acted erratically like bees by walking outside and lying in the snow. Two years have passed, now the speaker and her family are waiting for something to happen for grandmother. Because now the grandmother is not able to speak, she remains silent. She couldn’t breathe either. So, the grandmother is living like a bee during the season of September.