Strange Meeting

by Wilfred Owen

Start Free Trial

Why is the soldiers' meeting described as "strange" in Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting"?

Quick answer:

The soldiers' meeting in Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting" is described as "strange" due to its setting and context. It takes place in a dream-like, hellish realm, resembling a battlefield yet eerily devoid of war sounds. The speaker encounters an enemy soldier he had killed, highlighting the absurdity and futility of war. This encounter, a dialogue between the dead, is solemn rather than horrific. The dead soldier expresses regret for the lost potential of peace and the continued cycle of destruction, adding to the strangeness of the encounter.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The meeting is “strange” because the person the poet meets is his enemy (“I am the enemy you killed, my friend…”). But that is not the only “strange” thing about this meeting. First, it takes place in a world that is like the battlefield, but also somehow other (“It seemed that out of battle I escaped / Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped / Through granites which titanic wars had groined”). This dream-like land, we learn, is hell, even though “no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.” This is a meeting, then, between the dead, yet the tone is solemn rather than horrific.

Second, in this hellish spot the poet addresses one of the dead, telling him (oddly, if this is hell) that “here there is no cause to mourn.” The poet is perhaps instinctively trying to respond to the humanity of the dead soldier, but the soldier gives the poet a quiet rebuke: “’None,’ said that other, ‘save the undone years, / the hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours / was my life also.’” The meaning here is double; the dead soldier is saying that he felt the same hope the poet does, but also that his spirit understood “the truth untold,” the “pity of war,” its madness and waste. Had he lived, he would have “poured my spirit without stint / But not through wounds; not on the cess of war”— there is a sense that his spirit could have promoted peace. And, in as much as the solider’s joys are like the poet’s, then this spirit is within the poet as well.

But the poet has perhaps betrayed that spirit: “I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned / Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.” In recognizing the enemy he has killed, the poet also perhaps recognizes that he has killed something within himself. Whatever promise lay within these men, it has been lost forever.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the meaning of "Strange Meeting" by Wilfred Owen?  

"Strange Meeting" is one of Wilfred Owen's poems that illustrates the horror and futility of war. Owen fought in World War I and he quickly became horrified by the grim realities of war. In this poem, the speaker first notes that he has escaped the battlefield; he thinks this is some trench or tunnel dug out or bombed during a previous battle. 

As his journey continues, he happens upon many "sleepers" who are all dead. The speaker wakes one of them up; the sleeper recognizes him and this is when the speaker knows he is in Hell; but this could indicate Hell itself or the figurative Hell of war. The speaker and the "sleeper" are both soldier-poets. Some critics note that this sleeper is the speaker's/Owen's alter-ego. 

The speaker (perhaps still not aware that he is dead) is glad to be away from battle. But his alter-ego mourns the loss of his life because, had he lived, he would have used the opportunity to write more, to educate people about the futility of war, "I would have poured my spirit without stint." Since he, and people like him, have died, he fears that the world will go down a path of destruction, initiated by this "war to end all wars." He fears the world will be content with the destruction of this war and/or they will continue with others. 

Now men will go content with what we spoiled, 

Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled. 

In the last section of the poem, the alter-ego (sleeper) reveals that he is the one the speaker had killed. The alter-ego says, "I am the enemy you killed, my friend. / I knew you in this dark:" - The tragic/ironic implication is that the alter-ego knew him as a friend only in death. It took death for him to realize the futility of war. The alter-ego mourns the loss of his ability to share this truth in life, as he must accept his fate: "sleep." 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on