How is the tragedy of war brought out in "Strange Meeting" by Wilfred Owen?

In Owen's "Strange Meeting," the tragedy of war is brought out through the illustration that there is little difference between the soldiers who are fighting, whichever side they are on. In another life, the "enemy" might easily have been a "friend."

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In this poem, the speaker wakes up and realizes he has died and gone to hell. The first sense in which war is depicted as tragic is through the speaker's sense that after warfare, hell is not so bad: no blood reaches them from the battlefield, and the speaker hears...

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In this poem, the speaker wakes up and realizes he has died and gone to hell. The first sense in which war is depicted as tragic is through the speaker's sense that after warfare, hell is not so bad: no blood reaches them from the battlefield, and the speaker hears no "thump" of guns.

War is also tragic in that it has ended the lives of so many young men of potential. Their deaths matter. As the speaker points out while speaking to someone else in hell, he could have cheered up many people with his good spirits:

For by my glee might many men have laughed

More importantly, his death means he won't be able to bear witness to the horrors of war:

And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. ... the truth untold

He would have told people that war is a thing to be pitied, not glorified, and it is too bad that he won't be able to do this. Without voices like his in the world, the tragedy of war will be repeated. Without those like him speaking out, war will continue to be justified:

Now men will go content with what we spoiled.

The soldier regrets that his "wisdom" has been removed from the world.

Finally, the soldier realizes that the fellow soldier who addresses him as a "friend" in the underworld was actually an enemy soldier he killed in combat. It is tragic that the two had no hatred of each other and so much in common, and yet they were sent out to fight and kill each other.

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The speaker tells the man he killed that there is "no cause to mourn" now: it does no good. The enemy soldier, however, lists the "undone years" and the "hopelessness" of his experience; he was certainly young when he died, and so he has lost unnumbered years in which he might have experienced life more fully. Also, the youthful are often the most hopeful, the biggest dreamers, and yet this man's hopes for his life have been dashed by his early death. He explains to the speaker that "Whatever hope is yours / Was my life also."

Whatever dreams for life the speaker has, the enemy soldier says that he shared: they are, in so many ways, the same. He knows what it was like to experience the wild beauty of the world—within other people, within nature—and he says that the "truth untold" is the "pity of war distilled." This soldier says that he had courage and wisdom and potential, and now, that truth will never have the chance to reveal itself to him or to the world which might have benefited. The tragedy of war, then, is the unknowable potential of the hopes and lives of the people who die, and it is revealed by the dialogue between the two soldiers.

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The tragedy of war, particularly wars such as the First World War, is that it pits young men who are otherwise very similar against each other, even though they share no personal grievances. This is a theme to which Wilfred Owen returns again and again. In "Strange Meeting," he deliberately juxtaposes the phrase "the enemy you killed" with the phrase "my friend" to underline this message. When the British soldier in the tunnel encounters the ghostly figure of the German man he has killed, he does not see him as a villain. Instead, he sees the human elements in him: the "fear" in his face and the "piteous" expression he wears. He also, evidently, does not feel that the dead German wishes to hurt him or punish him for what he has done. On the contrary, when he lifts his hands, it seems as if he intends to "bless" the British soldier who has caused his death, as if recognizing that, in actual fact, it is the greater forces at work who are responsible for the fate of the "sleepers" in the tunnel.

The speaker underlines that the "hope" of soldiers on both sides is the same. The "pity of war," then, is that it forces these people on both sides to lose these hopes and their lives pointlessly, despite there being no enmity between them. The German encourages the British soldier to "sleep" with him, using the word "us" to once again emphasize the idea that it is the soldiers on both sides, pressed into a war they did not believe in, who are the victims.

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"Strange Meeting" involves an encounter in hell between a nameless narrator and an enemy soldier he killed. In reading this poem, you get a sense of wasted potential and unfulfilled promise.

The narrator greets his former enemy as a friend, and his former enemy treats him as a friend in turn. They share a similarity of spirit, for all that the war forced them into combat with one another.

Embedded across this poem, one gets a sense of wasted potential and of life cut off before its time. We see this in the following exchange:

"Strange friend," I said, "here is no cause to mourn." / "None," said that other, "save the undone years, / The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours, / Was my life also; I went hunting wild / After the wildest beauty in the world, / . . . For by my glee might many men have laughed, / And of my weeping something has been left, / Which must die now. I mean the truth untold, / the pity of war, the pity war distilled . . ."

What we observe in this poem is the erasure of a potential future, as people who should have had the entirety of their lives ahead of them are forced into combat by the demands of war. A potential future is lost with every life destroyed by war.

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