The first stanza sets the scene by describing a woman who follows a bride and groom out of the church on their wedding day. The bride, the speaker notes, "was like a village maid," whereas the other woman, Maude Clare, "was like a queen."
These similes not only introduce the two women, but also immediately juxtapose the pair. The parallelism between these phrases (note how lines 3 and 4 follow the same grammatical structure) emphasizes the sharp contrast between the two women: the bride seems humble and unsophisticated, while Maude Clare is bold and regal, walking "with a lofty step and mien."
Notably, Maude Clare is the only character named in this stanza. Though later the bride and groom are identified as Nell and Lord Thomas, here Nell is defined merely as "his bride" and Lord Thomas is even more obscured, his presence hinted at only through the pronouns "them" and "his." While Maude Clare's identity as Lord Thomas's ex-lover is not clarified until a little later, the poem's use of her name in both the title and the first stanza emphasizes her role as its central figure.
Finally, this first stanza establishes the poem's rhyme scheme, meter, and form. It uses alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter, meaning odd-numbered lines have four iambs (four da-DUMs) and even-numbered lines have just three. Take lines 3-4 as an example:
His bride | was like | a vil- | lage maid,
Maude Clare | was like | a queen.
There are variations here, as with the spondee (stressed-stressed) that draws extra attention to Maude Clare's name, but the rhythm is still clear. This meter plus the ABCB rhyme scheme (lines 2 and 4 rhyme, but lines 1 and 3 don't) indicate that the poem is a ballad.
This is a traditional form of English verse, often set to music and used to recount legends and myths. By using this particular form to tell the story of "Maude Clare," the poem instantly associates itself with a poetic tradition of high romance and tragedy.