“Strange Meeting”, is a gripping World War One poem written by world renowned war poet Wilfred Owens. Although entirely fictional, this poem is inspired by Owen’s own traumatic time on the battlefield, and was post-humanly published in 1920 after his death in November 1918. The poem tells the story of a Soldier dying in battle, presumably meant to be Wilfred Owens himself, and ending up in hell. There he sparks a conversation with an enemy soldier that he had killed.
As with most Wilfred Owen poems, Strange Meeting, is an extremely haunting look at what a soldier had to live through in WW1, however beyond that I believe that this poem, in particular, is used as therapeutic treatment for his psyche. When “the soldier” first exits the battlefield he escapes “down some profound dull tunnel, Through granite which titanic wars had groined ” through which he encounters people bent over, some lost in thought others in death. Here is where he finds a man trying to bless him with their hands, as they had done in Owens day. The soldier looks into this mans eyes, and sees that he has ended up in hell. This gives new meaning to the “dull” tunnel the soldier first escapes down, now revealed to be the opening to hell. This seemingly mundane way of entering the underworld is a common trope in various story’s, including the legendary 12th century poem “Inferno” the first part of Dante’s epic three part trilogy, in which the entrance is found while walking in the woods. I first heard of Dante Alighieri’s cultural phenomenon due to the various references in pop culture of “the nine circles of hell” as well as the the phrase “Abandon hope, ye enter here” (which I believe was mentioned in Pirates of the Caribbean). The visceral images presented in inferno as well as my intrigue into what a 12th century poet believed eternal damnation to look like, has given me a fascination into what people of the past believed that “hell” would be like – this is one of the reasons that I first chose “Strange Meeting” to write about. Due to the fact that I was intrigued by what Wilfred Owens, a “mama’s boy” fighting in the most disastrous war in human history, imagined the underworld to be like.
Further down in the poem, the lines “Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground, And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.” mean that in the underworld the horrors of the great war can’t be seen or heard, for the soldier this must be the first break from the sounds,fears and overall images of the war he has had for quite some time. Unfortunately this break only occurs once the soldier has entered hell. When the soldier begins talking to the other man he says “here is no cause to mourn.” this is also interesting as it means that although the soldier has entered this place, he is somewhat happier to be here then outside on the battlefield. This speaks volumes on how terrible the war really was for those fighting in it.
The response to this is also very interesting for me: “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, Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair, But mocks the steady running of the hour” during the first part the other man compares his life to the soldiers, then saying that he never quite caught “the wildest beast in the world” instead running out of time (dying).
“Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels, I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,” I believe that this means that as time goes on, the wheel keeps turning, the dead continues to pile up. The second part of this – which I found harder to decipher, “I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,” means to me that the other man wishes to wash this blood clean, relive the soldiers of their guilt that comes with killing another man, and wash their hands clean.
The poem ends with the words:
“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . .”
This tells us that the other man was in fact killed by the soldier in combat, he tried to”parry” – strike back/countermove, however he was already dead. This is a fantastic end to the poem as it leaves us with a vivid image. All in all Wilfred Owen’s strange meeting is an incredibly vivid and thought provoking poem that I believe should be read by anyone interested in WW1, and what the soldiers thought about it. Although parts of the poem can be extremely confusing, out of the five Wilfred Owen’s poems I have read “strange Meeting” is easily the best.
Inspired in part by: Schmoop.com with help from Mrs Waide.