(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Strange Meeting” is probably Owen’s most celebrated poem. He may have taken his title from a line in The Revolt of Islam (1818), a poem by the British Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. In Shelley’s poem, two warriors are reconciled in life, but Owen’s poem is more pessimistic: His soldiers can become friends only after both have died and are no longer fighting for their respective countries, England and Germany. Owen implies that as long as men and women live, they will fight wars.

The tunnel down which the speaker escapes in the first stanza could be a trench, the speaker’s unconscious, or the classical underworld, where people were supposedly sent after death. Owen describes this tunnel as having been “scooped” by many wars to indicate that what he has to say in this poem applies to wars throughout the ages, not merely to World War I. People have always realized too late that the so-called enemy was really a friend, no matter how strange or foreign that enemy may have seemed at first. Owen’s use of off-rhymes emphasizes the digging pain of war (“groined” and “groaned”) and forces readers to see the lines that death etches into human faces (“grained” and “ground”). At the same time, the fact that these words almost rhyme suggests that these sworn enemies are really very much alike in their vulnerability to pain and in their shared mortality.

The speaker realizes that he and his enemy shared the...

(The entire section is 468 words.)