In writing a poetry analysis or review of the poem “Strange Meeting” by Wilfred Owen, it is helpful to start with a summary. A poetry essay should show a free and clear understanding of the poet’s message and meaning. This poem begins with an assumption about the state of consciousness in which the speaker, perhaps a soldier, finds himself. This is brought out by the words “strange” and “it seemed.” The soldier feels that he has escaped the reality of the fighting above ground by disappearing into a tunnel under the ground, only to find that the horrors there are worse than those above. At least the people up there are still alive. He finds that even under the ancient earth, there are bodies everywhere, some groaning, some already dead. The repetition of sound in the words “granite, groined and groaned” is effective in portraying images of pain and suffering.
Some “sleepers” are too fast asleep, comatose or dead to be wakened, but those who respond to the speaker’s probing are worse, for they are the walking dead. More horrific still, a dead soldier responds, but appears to bless the speaker, who responds not with fear but with a reassurance that things are better down under the ground. Yet the dead soldier mourns the wasted years and the opportunities he would now never have. He talks of “the pity of war,” a theme very close to Owen’s heart. He despairs of a spoiled world which future generations might not bother to improve. The dead soldier appears to grieve for the good he might have done for the world, after all the lessons the bitter war had taught him about global conflict. Then, with horror, the speaker realises that it is his own act that has taken this man’s bright future away – he is speaking to the soldier he killed yesterday with such concentration and determination. Yet, any “fault” is out of their hands – they were put into the arena, to fight for self-preservation, by others. The poem ends with an invitation from the other soldier “let us sleep.” We realise that the speaker too takes his turn under the ground and is perhaps dead after all.
Wilfred Salter Owen is greatly revered as an accomplished World War I poet. He was moved and motivated by the bloody and harrowing scenes of grief and suffering on the French battle lines. Owen began to see the whole concept of war as futile and absurd. He was teaching in Europe in 1914 as World War One broke. Owen enlisted in 1915 on a trip home, and was dispatched to the trench fighting in France. However during 1917 he was sent home to Edinburgh to recuperate from shell shock. There, also ill, was poet Siegfried Sassoon. The poets became friends and Sassoon became Owen’s mentor. Wilfred Owen then tried out a more naturalistic style of poetry about the horrors of war, while experimenting with poetic forms. In 1918 he was sent back to the front lines in France, only to die in a German attack on 4th November. Ironically, this was only a few days before the armistice was signed.
After Owen’s death, Siegfried Sassoon promoted his work and its popularity grew and became recognized for the genius it showed. Perhaps most well-known is the poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” where Owen questions the old myth that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. “Strange Meeting” shows little sweetness except the belief from both sides that each had died in vain and could do little more except to lie at rest together.