The poem “Strange Meeting” mainly focuses on the theme of futility of war and universal suffering. The theme of uncertainty and ambiguity is also present in the poem. Wilfred Owen participated in the war and this poem by him focuses on the horrors of war and the destruction that war brings. Just as in his other poems such as “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, Wilfred Owen highlights the horrors of war and the pain and suffering gone through by the soldiers. Through the use of irony and diction, Owen points out the hopelessness of war.
The poem is grouped into three stanzas with the first two stanzas introduces the setting and atmosphere while the third stanza shows the conversation or “meeting” between the two soldiers. The first stanza serves as an introduction to the setting that it is out of the battle scene as the persona manages to “out of the battle I escaped” into “some profound dull tunnel”.
The tunnel seems long and dark and this is suggested by the usage of the long vowel sounds in the words “scooped” and “groined”. However, this escaping into the tunnel may not be literal as the word “seemed” gives an uncertainty of the persona and a dream-like quality to the poem. This reflects the confusion that war causes to the persona. The physical effect of war is also described as damaging to both soldiers and the landscape as the “titanic wars had groined” and “scooped Through granites”. The word titanic further suggests widespread destruction and massive damages caused.
The second stanza makes the setting more prominent as a place scarred by war as there were “encumbered sleepers” that were “too fast in thought or death to be bestirred”. This shows that the war had destroyed lives and the word “encumbered” suggests that they were troubled and had unresolved conflicts when they died. The word “sleepers” further suggests ambiguity. The first meaning of literal sleep or rest further provides the dream-like quality that the persona is experiencing. The second meaning however could mean that sleep was akin to death or eternal rest which leads to the deaths of many soldiers in the war. However, the persona finally realizes that he is dead through the “dead smile” given to him and he knew he was in “Hell”.
The third stanza then shows the conversation between the persona and the dead soldier which reflects the main theme of futility of war and universal suffering due to war. The immediate use of hyperbole in the third stanza in the words “thousand pains that vision’s face was grained” shows the pain caused by war. It also shows the permanence of the pain that it is ingrained onto “vision’s face”. Irony is brought up as the persona uses the term “strange friend” to address the apparition. The term “strange friend” is an oxymoronic term as the word “strange” could suggest the idea of a stranger which is definitely not a friend. The word “friend” also denotes familiarity which contradicts the idea that they were enemies in the war and were fighting each other. However, calling the vision “friend” shows that they had something in common which was they were once fighting in the war and now had died. Even the other soldier recognizes this as he had “stared with piteous recognition” at the persona when the persona “probed” the “encumbered sleepers”.
The theme of futility and hopelessness is further shown the “undone years” refers to the time that the soldiers lost in the war as well as their regret and years. Their unrealized dreams and potential is all the more emphasized by the word “hopelessness”. This is similar to the Owen’s poem “Disabled” where the youth in “Disabled” had “half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race”. The theme of universal suffering is also brought up as the “hope (that) is yours, Was my life also” but in the end was dashed by the war. The vision regrets taking part in the war to forsake his dreams as it “grieves, grieves richlier than here”. He feels that participating in the war was a waste and his hunting for the “wildest beauty” was more worth it as it “mocks the steady running of the hour” which meant it was eternal.
The futility of war is portrayed very strongly through the word “pity”. Owen intends to show the pity of war in its purest form as war “distilled” pity as war happens. Furthermore, war also brings no progress to mankind or to countries. “Men will go content with what we spoiled” or “discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled”, this shows that man will either kill of be killed in a war. Countries also do not benefit from war as “nations trek from progress” although “none (of the citizens) will break ranks” and all will fight for the country. The theme of confusion and ambiguity is further shown as the soldiers had courage and wisdom and could “miss the march of this retreating world” but they did not know what to do to stop the war. The usage of past tense “was” and “had” further shows that the soldiers only possess those strengths before they died. The phrase “this retreating world” further suggests that war degrades all things in the world.
More irony is brought up through the “vain citadels that are not walled”. Heavy fortresses that have no walls show the vulnerability and helplessness of the country and the intended glorious faï¿½ade is useless in times of war. The majesty and glory wanted in war by countries is further brought to mind through the “chariot wheels”. The link between glory and majesty and the chariots date back to ancient times when usually the higher ranked generals would ride on chariots but the lowly soldiers would fight on foot. However, the war has caused so much unaffordable loss of lives that even the chariot would no longer move due to the massive amount of dried blood that clogged the “chariot wheels”. This shows stagnation of the glory of the country. This emphasizes the theme of futility of war and the degradation of war.
The theme of universal suffering is also brought up as the poem also shows a psychological struggle occurring within soldiers as they fight. The word “frowned” as the soldier “jabbed and killed” suggests a reluctance in fighting as it hints that the fighting is against the soldier’s will and he thinks that it is wrong to kill. The theme is once again surfaced as the vision says “let us sleep now”. This statement is ironic as there is no real rest for those who are still fighting in the war but only for those who are already dead. The hell above still exists on the battlefield and the “Hell” that they are in can offer them eternal sleep.
In conclusion, the poem shows a supernatural, dream-like meeting between two soldiers who were enemies in the hellish war above but now are friends in “Hell”. Their conversation shows the futility of war and the broken dreams and unfulfilled desires due to war. The hopelessness of war is further shown as soldiers die with unresolved conflicts in life. War too brings suffering to all due to the bloodshed and the widespread devastation and destruction.