What techniques does Wilfred Owen use to create a sense of the effects of war in his poem "Strange Meeting"?
In his poem titled “Strange Meeting,” Wilfred Owen depicts a war-time encounter, in hell, between a soldier who has been slain and the enemy soldier who has slain him. The speaker of the poem is the slayer, who imagines meeting in the underworld the man he so recently killed. In this poem, Owen uses a number of techniques to convey the horrors and atmosphere of war. These techniques include the following:
- In line 2, he refers to a “profound dull tunnel,” thereby using intriguing adjectives to remind us of the trench warfare so common during World War I.
- In line 3 he refers to “titanic wars,” thereby using a mythical allusion (to the Titans) to imply the unprecedented immensity of the aptly named World War I, in which almost the entire world was indeed involved.
- By referring in lines 2-3 to granite rock “long since scooped,” the speaker uses a striking verb to remind us of the great mechanical power that was employed by both sides during the war.
- By mentioning “groan[ing]” in line 4, the speaker uses onomatopoeia to allude to the actual physical suffering endured by soldiers in combat
- By referring to “Hell” in line 10, the speaker uses a religious and theological allusion to suggest the deep torment associated with the war. This word may also remind us of the hellish encounters depicted in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
- By mentioning in lines 12-13 the flow of blood and thumping of guns, the speaker uses vivid images to remind us of some of the grim realities of war.
- By referring in line 15 to his “undone years,” the slain man uses internal rhyme as well as assonance to remind us of the wasted potential caused by deaths in war. Likewise, in lines 16-17 he alludes to all the hopes he once had – hopes that have now died with him.
- In line 22, the dead man combines assonance and alliteration to emphasize what others have lost by his death:
For by my glee might many men have laughed. . . [assonance indicated here by boldfaced type, alliteration by italic type]
- In line 25, the dead man uses a phrase that sums up a main theme of this poem and indeed of much of Owen’s war poetry:
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
- Throughout the poem, Owen uses near-rhyme rather than full-rhyme in order to make the poem sound less artificial, more natural, and thus more appropriate to the theme of war. Consider, for example, the near-rhymes of lines 26-29:
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
- In lines 30-31, the dead man uses echoed phrasing to emphasizes the passion of his feelings:
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery . . .
- Finally, at the end of the poem the dead man leaves us with a vivid vision of the final moments of his life, which involved hand-to-hand combat with bayonets:
. . . you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
In all these ways, Owen creates a highly memorable poem about the dark realities of warfare and of killing.