As with any new dance, it is of the utmost importance we learn the movements; steps and directions. We need to be able to move in the appropriate manner to the music in order to keep the rhythm with our partner. So too with poetry and our reader. Poetry is a dance of words and rhythm, especially with what we call formal poetry.
Formal poetry is metrical in some manner and there are a number of metrical feet used. By metrical you may think of a pattern of beats in any given line. By far the most common metrical line is iambic pentameter. We could say that this is the metrical line of poetry.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not a matter of merely writing ten-syllable lines and splitting the line into pairs of syllables. Not only would this not be according to the meter, it would likely lack any rhythm. As in all dances, the beat and rhythm is important.
Meter alone does not produce a memorable verse, but it is certainly the first step toward this goal. The correct placement of words in a line with the metrical pattern will stimulate the reader's appreciation and enjoyment. Without both meter and rhythm, what is produced is more a prose-like ramble with no particular endearing quality.
At times the metrical dance is not easy. It takes time and practice, but once achieved, the dance is never forgotten.
For the beginner, to write a metered line may not be an easy task. However, some have a natural meter and rhythm to their writing. These are some of the lucky ones. If you come from free verse poetry, you may struggle for a while, but your perseverance will reap rewards not only with your formal poetry, also you free verse poetry. It will be like some closely guarded secret has been divulged and the magic of poetry floods your pages.
Due to the nature of metered work, especially our beloved iambic pentameter, you may find that your initial attempts are rather clumsy and child-like because you will find that single syllable words are easier to use to fit the pattern in each line. This is common, but it is how you learn the steps to this dance. As you become more proficient with the meter, you will discover a host of variations that add the missing magic to your lines, and you will be surprised at how the rhythm will and can be changed using the same metrical foot.
Throughout these lessons you will discover how to bring your thoughts and feelings to the reader using this important and adaptable metrical line. Be prepared to spend some time, some patience and practice and feel the power of formal poetry.