How can something be irregular and regular at the same time? No, the answer isn't "If it's a pair of jeans I found at the outlet mall." This isn't some great riddle on the back of a fortune cookie wrapper, Shmoopers. It's more of a way to think about this poem's form.
We'll start with the irregular bits (which are always more fun). Try reading a few of the poem's lines out loud. Notice any repeating rhythms? Do any patterns in the meter jump out at you?
One hundred points to Ravenclaw if you're shaking your head no. In terms of its meter, this poem doesn't conform to any set pattern. Instead, the rhythms of the lines use an approach called free verse. The effect is a poem that's more conversational, less formal. (After all, who talks in iambic pentameter anymore?)
And yet, we do have some regularities that don't quite make this a full-on free verse poem. Those regularities have do with the rhyme scheme, in which the even-numbered lines of each stanza rhyme.
In the poetry biz, we'd write out the rhyme scheme like this: ABCB, in which each letter stands for that line's end rhyme. For all five of the stanzas, the second and fourth lines share an end rhyme, which gives this poem a bit more formality than a true free verse poem might have. Check out some examples of this rhyme in action:
Women have no wilderness in them, A
They are provident instead, B
Content in the tight hot cell of their hearts C
To eat dusty bread. B
They do not see cattle cropping red winter grass, D
They do not hear E
Snow water going down under culverts F
Shallow and clear. (1-8) E
Don't get too caught up on the different letters we use in the second stanza. The idea is that they aren't the same end rhymes as the ones in stanza 1. The pattern of rhymed even lines, though, remains.
So what's this all mean? Well, this "rhymed verse" form is a bit like going to your prom in a tuxedo and sneakers. We have both formal and informal aspects to deal with. And, when you think about what this poem is up to (you know, just passing judgment on all of womanhood), we'd say that's kind of appropriate. We have conversational, unpatterned rhythms to let us know that we're in a conversation with the speaker. She's, in a sense, talking to us about her observations.
At the same time, though, these observations are wrapped up in five formal, rhymed stanza packages. This formality lends a kind of authority to the speaker's criticisms. We can't easily dismiss them as just idle conversation. Our speaker is mean (to women, anyway) and she means business, too.