Analysis of poem Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen
Strange Meeting – Analysis – Maximilian Stumvoll
The poem „Strange Meeting“ was written by the English poet Wilfred Owen in 1918, towards the end of the First World War. While recovering from shell shock in a hospital Owen had horrible nightmares. These dreams about war and how it serves as the mouth of hell inspired him to write “Strange Meeting”. This lets us assume that the narrator is the poet and the poem is written from his perspective. The general theme and aim is to show that war is terrible, destructive and traumatic and it isn’t what it is said to be.
The poem is about the narrator (a soldier) walking through a tunnel to hell and “meeting” a soldier he has killed, who speaks to him. The fact that the narration begins with “it seemed” leads me to believe that the poem is actually a dream. The tunnel is the mouth of hell as it is going down, so descending to hell. “Groined” and “groaned” is the first example of pararhyme. It is used throughout the poem to create the effect of dissonance and failure. This tunnel is scattered with “sleepers”, the corpses of dead soldiers. One soldier springs up and recognizes the narrator. The irony comes in with the dead soldiers smile, because it leads to the realization that the place where this takes place is hell. “Hall” and “hell” is another pararhyme. A smile is an expression of happiness and contrasts greatly with the concept of hell. Smile is repeated in the oxymoron “dead smile”. Someone dead and in hell can’t smile but thus the poet describes that soldier’s empty soul. His emotions are turned around like killing is bad but expected in war. The word “vision” is further evidence that the poem is dream. The monologue of the narrator ends with the ironic image of how hell is safer than the battlefield above (“upper ground”). He addresses the soldier with the words: “strange friend here is no cause to mourn.” This is an ironic paradox because of course nothing is worse than hell. Or is it? Owen shows the view of a particular soldier who thinks that hell is a better place than the midst of war, away from the blood and guns.
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From then on the poem continues as a monologue of the dead soldier. He begins by disagreeing and explaining that there is great cause to mourn. He says that the two of them share the same identity and had the same hope. The line “went hunting wild after the wildest beauty in the world” is an ideal that Owen pursued when he was younger. This can be seen in Owens earlier poetry. He was changed by the war and lost his innocence. The phrase “the pity war distilled” talks about purification of pity. It is a strong anti-war propaganda statement. The poet wanted people to see that there is nothing heroic, nothing to glorify. The worn men returning from war should encounter empathy for all the killing and everything they had to endure. Owen also tells people that the soldiers fight for the freedom of the people in the home country (“men will go content”)and that these people don’t appreciate this enough. The very powerful simile in half rhyme of the swiftness of a tigress, as if it were in the soldier’s nature, expresses that the exact opposite, viz that soldiers are just human. They are not natural predators, killing machines, even robots.
The parallel lines “courage was mine, and I had mystery – wisdom was mine, and I had mastery” bring a sudden change in style. Although another pararhyme, they are very romantic and stand in contrast to the rest, representing what he would have done and strived for if not for the war. Next, Owen takes the topic to a larger scale and views war not from the view of one soldier anymore but how senseless and counter-productive it is. He calls the world of war a “retreating world” and its “vain citadels are not walled”, meaning that war has immense negative consequences and the world becomes unsafe.
This image is followed by two metaphors. The first one (“wash them from sweet wells”) speaks of the cleansing of the soul, washing off sins. But still he didn’t reckon with so much death (“not on the cess of war”). “The foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.” is a metaphor for the soldiers sweating the blood of their victims because they have already killed so many. Great emphasis is put on the word “wounds” by repetition and assonance (“through wounds”) to show people what war is really about. Both corporal wounds and emotional or mental wounds.
The poem ends the reader finding out that the dead soldier has been killed by the narrator only yesterday. By saving this information for the end Owen has created more impact on the reader. The two soldier share so many things, are so alike but the evil o war has made them enemies. The would much rather sleep together. This last line “Let us sleep now--“ is further evidence for the theory that the poem is a dream. The ellipsis at the end stands for the looking ahead to the awakening and that it may be a better tomorrow. I believe Owens intention was to end on a sentimental and more hopeful note. At least I read it that way.
Throughout the poem Onomatopoeia is used to strengthen the meaning of the words by the sense of hearing. Words like groaned, sprang, thumped and moan are examples, where this is the case.
The title “Strange Meeting” fits the objective absurdity of the scene. The entire poem is strange as no one has ever lived to tell of hell and corpses do not spring up, smile and talk. Owen disguises his anti-war propaganda statements in Strange Meeting unlike in other poems like Dulce et Decorum est where these are much more present.