"Love Among the Ruins" begins in utter peace. The speaker describes a countryside scene, a grassy field that stretches out for "miles and miles," all the way to the horizon. It's around dusk, and the landscape is so still that it even looks quiet: this is a "quiet-coloured end of evening," imagery that might invite readers to picture sunset painting the landscape with soft pink-gold light. The only sound breaking the silence is the "tinkle" of sheep making their way home through the twilight, perhaps pausing here and there to "crop" (or munch) a mouthful of grass.
Even the poem's shape suggests wide vistas and spacious quiet:
- The meter here starts out with a long line of trochaic hexameter—that is, a line of six trochees, metrical feet with a DUM-da rhythm (as in "Where the | quiet- | coloured | end of | evening | smiles").
- Then, abruptly, it switches to a brief line of trochaic dimeter (just two trochees, as in "Miles and | miles").
- Notice, too, that the meter here is catalectic: that is, the lines drop their final unstressed syllables. That makes the rhyme scheme of couplets (as in smiles / miles) stand out all the more dramatically: the rhymes always land on a strong stress.
The poem will sway back and forth between these longer and shorter lines all the way through. The shorter lines leave roomy silences behind them, pauses as quiet as the countryside the speaker describes.
Perhaps, though, those sudden short lines also suggest something cut off, something missing. For the speaker knows that this lovely pastoral landscape wasn't always so wide-open and peaceful. These "solitary pastures," he reveals, were:
[...] the site once of a city great and gay,
(So they say)
That is, a legendary ancient city once stood in these very fields. It was the "very capital" of the country the speaker lives in now, the seat from which its noble "prince" once held court and waged either "peace or war" (depending on his mood at the time, one supposes).
This city, the speaker suggests, was very great indeed—but you certainly wouldn't know it to look at the sheep-dotted sweep of grass the speaker gazes upon now. The remarkably complete disappearance of a city that once seemed all-powerful will become one of this strange, picturesque poem's central images.