The opening lines of "Home Burial" introduce the poem's dramatic style—and the sad story that style will serve.
Right away, the reader notices that this poem is written in blank verse, a steady rhythm of iambic pentameter (that is, five da-DUM feet per line) without a regular rhyme scheme. This pattern might feel familiar to readers of Shakespeare, who wrote long passages of his plays in blank verse. Already, readers might almost feel they're watching a play.
These lines also introduce a third-person speaker, who watches as two characters, a man and a woman, meet on their staircase—and who listens as the man speaks the poem's first line of dialogue. All together, these literary devices make it clear that this will be a narrative poem, a poem that tells a story.
Lines 1-7 also introduce us to the characters at the center of this story, described here as standing at opposite ends of a flight of stairs. The imagery in this opening section is rich with detail: the speaker reports that the husband spots his wife on the stairs before she notices him, because she is more preoccupied with "looking back over her shoulder at some fear." From the get-go, then, these characters are defined in opposition to one another, both standing and looking in opposite directions.
But if that symbolism (and the tension of the word "fear") weren't clear enough, these lines also create mood through dialogue. When the husband asks, "'What is it you see / From up there always,'" his words sound less like a question (note that there's no question mark!) and more like a demand, especially given his pushy "I want to know."
At the same time, this opening remains mysterious. Like the husband, readers don't know what the wife sees "from up there" at the top of the stairs. What they do notice, however, is the wife's inability to look away. In lines 4-5, she "start[s] down" the stairs "doubtful[ly]," only to return to her original spot and "look again," as though drawn back by an invisible force. What's more, the husband's dialogue states that she stands there "always." Clearly, whatever compels her to keep watch at this spot is deeply important to her—but also a mystery to her husband, who must "advance" menacingly up the stairs in order to find out.