Strange Meeting

by Wilfred Owen

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Consequence of War

The main theme in “Strange Meeting” is the devastating consequences of war. The poem explores the profound impact of war on individuals and society. It highlights the tragic fate of young soldiers whose future is destroyed. As the soul of a fallen soldier laments, "I am the enemy you killed, my friend.” This theme resonates with the ongoing realities of war, emphasizing the human cost and the long-lasting effects on individuals and communities.

Futility

Related to this is the theme of futility. Owen attacks the glorification of war and exposes its senselessness. He portrays both sides of the conflict as victims. The poem presents a stark contrast between the destructive nature of war and the potential for reconciliation. It underscores the futility of violence and the need for peaceful resolutions.

Wasted Youth and Shared Humanity

Another significant theme in "Strange Meeting" is the concept of wasted youth. It highlights the tragic loss of youthful potential caused by war. The soul of the fallen soldier mourns the "undone years," expressing sorrow for the unfulfilled lives and missed opportunities resulting from their premature deaths.

"Strange Meeting" emphasizes shared humanity. The encounter between the two fallen soldiers reveals their common ground as victims of the same senseless war. They find connection and understanding despite their previous roles as foes. This theme serves as a powerful reminder that compassion and empathy can bridge divides and promote reconciliation, even in times of conflict.

Owen explores the idea that, beneath the divisions of war and enmity, there exists a mutual human condition. He expresses the interconnectedness of all people, regardless of their affiliations or allegiances. The soldiers, who were once enemies, recognize their common ground and shared fate. The poem challenges the notion of "us" versus "them" and encourages the recognition of our mutual vulnerabilities, hopes, and sufferings.

Guilt

Guilt is another theme present in this poem. Although the speaker and the other soul did their fair share of killing, they are not presented as being responsible for it. They certainly feel shame and guilt and these feelings will torment them for eternity. However, the soldiers did not want to be the ones shedding the blood of their enemies. Instead, blame is assigned to the leaders who sent these young men to die.

As such, "Strange Meeting" advocates for compassion and peace as antidotes to the horrors of war. Owen's anti-war message urges society to reject violence and seek understanding. The final line, "Let us sleep now," suggests a surrender to fate and a longing for rest from the turmoil of war. This reinforces the need for peace and a reprieve from the cycle of destruction while also underscoring the permanent damage of war.

Finally, the way combat transforms people is present throughout the poem. Soldiers often start out as idealistic, patriotic, and courageous. These characteristics tend to fall away once they experience the realities of war. The encounter between the speaker and the other fallen soldier reflects this transformation in their perspectives. Initially, they were adversaries on the battlefield, driven by opposing loyalties. However, they now recognize what they have in common and a shift occurs. They begin to view each other as individuals who have suffered and lost, rather than as enemies.

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Summary