Why is the soldier's smile called a "dead smile" in "Strange Meeting"?

In "Strange Meeting," the soldier's smile is called a "dead smile" because he has died and is in hell. It is also a smile without mirth or joy.

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In this poem, a soldier, the poem's speaker, finds himself in a "tunnel" where men groan in sleep. While there, the speaker meets another soldier he recognizes. The speaker says that from the other soldier's "dead smile I knew we stood in Hell."

The word dead implies death, of course,...

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In this poem, a soldier, the poem's speaker, finds himself in a "tunnel" where men groan in sleep. While there, the speaker meets another soldier he recognizes. The speaker says that from the other soldier's "dead smile I knew we stood in Hell."

The word dead implies death, of course, but a "dead" smile is one that is also without joy or mirth, which is what tips the speaker off that he is in hell. In hell, he has a conversation with the soldier. The soldier says that what gets him down is the "hopelessness" he experiences here. He thinks of all the hopes a living soldier must have and says he once had them too.

The dead soldier wanted to pursue beauty, and he felt that by his own "glee" or joy he could have made others laugh. He also says that in his death, he left the "truth of war untold." He says that had he lived, he would have told the truth and "poured" his spirit fully out on the world. The tragedy is that he died too soon.

At the end of the poem, we learn that it is the speaker who killed the solider with the dead smile. Ironically, the speaker feels no animosity towards this man at all.

Owen was an antiwar poet, and this poem is a bitter lament for all the potential pointlessly lost in World War I.

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