In her introduction to her collection Sword Blades and Poppy Seed, Lowell refers to the French term vers libre (which means ‘‘free verse’’) to describe the form in which she wrote some of her poems. Lowell often used her own term, unrhymed cadence, to refer to this type of poetry. Today, most poems in English that are written without adherence to a strict meter are referred to as free verse. Though free verse poems are not based on regular meter, they do have a cadence, or rhythm, created through phrases, punctuation, line breaks, and patterns. Rhyme can be used but rarely is in free verse.
Lowell further explained the form by stating that the poems are ‘‘built upon ‘organic rhythm,’ or the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing, rather than upon a strict metrical system.’’ Lowell stated that the lines of poetry differ from prose and should not be confused with a system by which prose is merely chopped up and made to look like poetry on the page. ‘‘These poems, built upon cadence, are more subtle, but the laws they follow are not less fixed,’’ Lowell wrote. She added that the poems are ‘‘constructed upon mathematical and absolute laws of balance and time.’’ Lowell often referred to this type of writing as polyphonic prose, which is defined as a freely rhythmical prose employing characteristic devices of poetry such as alliteration, rhythm, and metaphor. The writing sounds like a poem, but there is no rhyme or strict rhythm.
Free verse, though it was not readily accepted in Lowell’s time, has become a very popular form with American poets in recent decades. However, free verse has not been restricted only to the twentieth century. For example, the nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman often used free verse, especially in his collection Leaves of Grass.
Poetic imagery is created through words or phrases that appeal to any sense or combination of senses. The image is something that the reader can visualize or can imagine smelling, hearing, touching, or tasting. Poets use images to pull the reader into the piece through common experience. For instance, in Lowell’s poem, the image of a taxi, suggested by the title, is used to portray a sense of traveling as well as the process of being taken away, something readers, especially in an urban setting, could relate to.
Poetic imagery is sometimes referred to as word-pictures. Poets use images to express emotions. In the case of Lowell’s poem, the image of streets rushing at the speaker represents her feelings of being taken away by some aggressive, external force. The emotion that is expressed through this image is not just the longing for the lover left behind but also the sense of desperation, as if the speaker were being taken away against her own wishes. The images of the lamps and the night assaulting the speaker graphically suggest her pain.
In its use of imagery, ‘‘The Taxi’’ is a typical imagist poem. The imagists believed the image was the central point around which a poem was formed. They focused on creating strong images upon which their poems would stand.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Amy Lowell, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009