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Saturday, 7 March 2015

Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen

Literary Analysis (Summary)

This poem dwells on the futility of war. Written by Wilfred Owen, Strange Meeting is inspired by the First World War (1914-1918). Owen was a British soldier during the World War 1 and so he witnessed and participated in the most devastating war in the annals of human history. He was killed in action in 1918 just one week to the end of the war.

Being a veteran of the war, Wilfred Owen witnessed the massacre of people and the destruction of lives. Armed with this tormenting experience during the World War, he writes on the horror of war and why waging war is a dumb idea. The poet has first-hand knowledge of the World War 1, an apocalyptic war on humanity.

Wilfred Owen tags the poem as “strange meeting” because it’s an unusual meeting of two veterans of war conversing in hell. Having fought a ruinous battle where one has killed the other, the killer and the killed finally meets in hell.

The first part of the poem begins with the killer who has just “escaped” from battle. “It seemed that out of battle I escaped”. The killer and new entrant notices that he is no longer in the battlefield but he has “escaped” to a new and unfamiliar environment through a “profound dull tunnel” that has been “long since scooped” by years of “titanic wars”.There, he meets other occupants of his new home, who are “encumbered sleepers” yet groaning.

The new entrant questions the sleeping occupants who are “too fast in thought or death” and then one of them springs up to answer him. This older occupant actually recognises the new occupant as he looks at him with “fixed eyes” in “piteous recognition”. The new occupant is the one who killed him in the battlefield. So, he has come before the killer, who has just escapes to meet him, having been killed too in battle. As the older tenant, with a “dead smile”, lifts up his “distressful hands as if to bless” and welcome the new occupant to his destination, “the sullen hall”, the new occupant finally realises that he is dead and in hell, a place full of “thousand pains” and “no blood reached there”. In fact, the sounds of heavy guns are not heard. That implies that the blood being shed on the battlefield does not count after death. This further proves the futility of war.

The killer-new comer finally speaks and addresses the old occupant as his “strange friend” because he cannot recognise him. But the older occupant can recognise his killer.

The second part of the poem continues with the older occupant, who has been killed in battle and sent to hell earlier by the new comer. The older occupant tells the new comer and war veteran, his killer, to forget the “undone years”.

The older tenant regrets the “undone years”. These are the years of waging pointless wars that has not benefitted humanity, years of hatred, enmity and “hopelessness”. He regrets how he has lived his life “hunting wild after the after the wildest beauty in the world” and wasting away his productive years.  This makes him grief.“The truth untold” that war is unnecessary needs to be revealed at this point. It is “the pity of war”.

The older occupant further feels sorry for the devastation they have caused and the innocent blood they have spilled in needless battles that have made prosperous nations “trek from progress” to a “retreating world”. His “courage” in battle has caused him “mystery”. Their “chariot wheels” of progress has been “clogged” by incessant bloodshed. Now, he is ready to make amends to his crime against humanity and “wash them” away from the “sweet wells” of peaceful negotiation with untainted truth. This absolute restitution will be done “not through wounds” or the “cess of war” because in the past, “foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were”. That is, innocent people have suffered through mysterious wars they know nothing about.

Finally, the older occupant introduces himself to his killer and new comer, “I am the enemy you killed, my friend.” At this point, the older occupant is no longer a “strange friend” to the new comer. He calls the new comer “my friend” although he has “jabbed and killed” him the day before as an enemy. Despite the fact that the new comer frowns, he recognises him in the dark and springs up to his help by telling him the “truth untold”, and the pity of war.

The older occupant concludes the strange meeting by telling his killer, “Let us sleep now…” This is a call for them to settle their differences and be at peace with one another. He invites his killer to sleep and have eternal rest.

The poem is written in 44 lines with para-rhymes.

The pity of war
The meaninglessness of life
The agony of death
War breeds regression
The need for peaceful negotiation
The pains of hell

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