Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

The central theme in “Strange Meeting” is the futility and horror of modern war. There is no chivalry or honor, which the traditional poets found in war; instead, there is only suffering and death. Owen is attempting to inform the public of the horrors of trench war as seen by the common man in an effort to motivate this self-serving public into a front to force an end to World War I and to be aware enough not to allow another war to happen.

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“Strange Meeting” was the end result of a metamorphosis undergone by Owen and other World War I soldier-poets. They went through many changes as their exposure to the war and trench life increased. Initially they wrote patriotic verse, designed to help build a united front opposing the aggressions of Germany. This quickly changed as they began to realize the grim realities and arbitrariness of war. As their frustrations grew, they lashed out at those they saw as either profiting from the war or misguidedly supporting it. Their final stage reflects the sadness and waste of any war at any time no matter what side the combatants and populace are on. Owen was no exception; “Strange Meeting” is perhaps his most poignant poem and strongest antiwar work, crowning his short list of achievements.

Owen is not only lamenting the terrors his generation must face; he is also sadly prophesying future conflicts between nations. He is attempting to show the public the waste such conflicts create, but he realizes the futility—no matter what the truth is nor how it is presented, there will always be those who will strive to go “Into vain citadels that are not walled.” It will be the common man who will pay the ultimate price for the conquest of nations.

“Strange Meeting” is a moving elegy for the unknown dead of all nationalities who shared suffering and deprivations for their nations and gave their lives in a conflict very few understood. War is nothing more than murder between strangers, and modern technology raises it to new levels of proficiency. Owen and his alter ego—both soldier-poets, both dead—have concluded their journeys; they are now sleeping together as comrades, even though they were proclaimed enemies by the uniforms they wore. Those differences have been overcome by the universal brotherhood of man. As fellow poets, they know they have been cheated by death of the influence they may have provided. Owen can only hope that by showing their human bond amidst the horrors of war, he can exert some slight influence to urge the world to a warless future.

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