Last Updated September 6, 2023.
Wilfred Owen’s war poem, “Strange Meeting”, explores the destructive consequences of war and the futility of violent conflict. With vivid imagery and powerful language, the poem delves into concepts of suffering, loss of innocence, remorse, forgiveness, and the shared humanity that cuts across enemy lines. The poet’s anti-war message challenges the glorification of war and emphasizes the need for compassion and peace.
Owen is widely regarded as one of the greatest war poets in English literature. His personal experience with the horrors of World War I combat allowed him to provide an authentic and meaningful voice to the soldiers' experiences, which is evident in "Strange Meeting”. His experiences lend credibility and depth to the poem's exploration of the terrible effects of war. Through his poetry, Owen condemned warfare and shed light on the human cost of conflict, leaving a lasting impact on how war is perceived and understood.
In "Strange Meeting", the speaker finds himself traveling into Hell, where he encounters other souls of fallen soldiers. In this land of the dead, he speaks with the soul of a soldier he killed the previous day, although he does not recognize him at first. The two discover that they are not so different as they share the tragic fate of youthful possibilities that are never realized.
Like many of Owen’s poems, this work is meant to express the senselessness of war. It does not matter which side the speaker or the soul he encounters fought for. They are both presented equally as victims of pointless bloodshed.
The first two stanzas of “Strange Meeting” involve the speaker traveling down a tunnel that is evocative of a front-line trench. He soon realizes that he is dead and traveling through Hell. When the speaker comes across another soldier, he greets him as “strange friend,” indicating that all are equal in Hell.
The other soldier speaks at length about the wasted potential of “the undone years.” He also fears that this war will not be the last of its kind. People “will be swift with swiftness of the tigress” in order to sacrifice their nation’s youth to more wars in the future. If only he had not died, he could tell others of the need for peace "with truths that lie too deep for taint.”
In the final stanza, the other soul reveals to the speaker that he is “the enemy you killed.” He ends the poem by saying that they should “sleep now” and surrender to their fate.
In this poem, Owen draws inspiration from the literary traditions of Dante, weaving together ideas of suffering and the search for redemption. As Dante did in Inferno, Owen constructs a vivid and haunting landscape, descending into the depths of Hell to explore a grim vision of life after death. The oppressive atmosphere and desolate imagery mirror the profound anguish and despair experienced by soldiers on the battlefield.
Additionally, Owen incorporates elements of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poetry, particularly his themes of remorse, regret, and the transformative power of empathy. The title, "Strange Meeting", is likely drawn from a line in Shelley’s 1818 poem, "The Revolt of Islam", which discusses, among other topics, the common humanity that enemies in war share. Owen's engagement with Shelley's ideas allows him to explore the complexities of guilt, redemption, and the fundamental bonds that transcend the boundaries of enemy lines.
Throughout this poem, Owen uses couplets that pararhyme. The consonant sounds match, but the vowel sounds differ slightly, creating an effect of partial rhyme (“hall” and “hell;” “friend" and “frowned”). These deliberate deviations from full rhyme construct an unsettling and discordant atmosphere, mirroring the dissonance and chaos of war. By employing pararhymes in this manner, Owen helps the reader experience the uncanny setting of the poem.