Strange Meeting

by Wilfred Owen

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What poetic devices and techniques does Wilfred Owen use in "Strange Meeting"?

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The poetic devices and techniques Wilfred Owen uses in "Strange Meeting" include first-person narration, direct address, alliteration, consonance, assonance, and rhyme.

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In his poem “Strange Meeting,” Wilfred Owen uses a variety of poetic devices and techniques. These include the overall narrative strategy, which employs a first-person narrator or speaker but also incorporates second-person direct address to another person, who remains silent. The poet makes extensive use of alliteration, consonance, and assonance, which are often applied together to create word pairs, especially at the end of lines. While these pairs are very similar in sound, they do not actually rhyme. Owen uses rhyme quite sparingly.

Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds, while consonance is the repletion of such sounds anywhere in a word. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds anywhere in a word. All three are used in the second line:

Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped….

Alliteration appears in the initial D sound of “down” and “dull,” along with consonance in “profound” and “scooped.” Similarly, alliteration and consonance with the S sound are used in “some,” “since,” and “scooped.” Assonance is used with the “ow” sound of “down” and “profound,” and the short U in “dull tunnel.” That phrase also uses consonance in the final L, a sound which then is used to begin “long.” These intricate combinations serve to create a complex but harmonious text that helps the reader follow along, even with the scarcity of conventional rhymes.

The intersection of these three devices creates the near-rhymes of many paired lines, such as “groined” and “groaned,” and later “grained” and “ground.” The pairing of “hall” and “Hell” suggests that the latter is a conduit through which one passes rather than a room in which to remain.

Owen sometimes takes one word of such a pair and rhymes it with a previous or subsequent line.

The pity of war, the pity war distilled.

Now men will go content with what we spoiled.

Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.

The judicious use of rhyme combined with these word pairs also contributes to the fluidity of the text, while emphasizing the grim, war-related content.

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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.

 

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

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

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

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

"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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