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A Critical Analysis of Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen

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‘Strange Meeting’ by Wilfred Owen is written to reflect upon war: a place worse than hell! It begins with the relief of one soldier as he is flung magically away from the battlefield. Only after making contact with one of the spirits does he realise where he is. It continues with a large monologue by the awakened spirit describing the waste of life caused by war. It presents many valid statements on war that can be found beneath the subject matter. It closes with the acceptance of death as the hell of war has now past.

This poem contains several underlying messages as well as the subject matter, which is clearly laid out. The line ‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend’ best encapsulates one. The general setting of the poem as well as this leads me to the conclusion that Wilfred Owen is proposing that enemies at war can be friends outside of it. This adds further to the argument that war is senseless and evil. Another message is set out by the line ‘now men will go content with what we spoiled’.

This points out that men not involved in the war will feel content with their ‘achievements’ and wars will go on because they do not know the evil it causes. ‘None will break ranks though nations trek from progress’ states that no one will dare to defy convention and wars will go on, leading everyone further away from their ultimate goal of peace. Obviously, there may be more messages open for debate, but these were the ones which presented themselves to me. This poem has a reflective tone, with places of irony and bitterness. This relates well to the theme and subject matter of the poem.

In his reflection on war, the spirit is rightfully bitter, as his life was taken from him, having had no fulfilment before death. He says that whatever hopes he had, the narrator had also. He describes how he missed out on the life he had to live, as well as everyone else who died in war. He states that war is a cause of unnecessary pain and that he was willing to give everything to live a wild and beautiful life, but he was willing to give nothing to war. This intensifies his reasons to feel bitter and helps to set the tone of the poem.

Irony is displayed on a broad scale in the relief that hell gave them from the battle, so they didn’t really mind being there. Though it is nearly two thirds monologue, ‘Strange Meeting’ contains dialogue and narration as well. There is narration at the beginning as the first character leaves battle and prods the sleeping spirits until he makes communication with one of them. It continues with a brief moment of dialogue until the spirit begins his speech. The majority of the subject matter and the underlying messages are stated in this monologue of an elevated nature.

There is a shared viewpoint with the two speakers, however, the monologue of the spirit presents it more clearly. Imagery is used in the poem to produce a dark and solemn tone to it. In the beginning of the poem, the scene is set by describing hell as a vast darkness which has caused sorrow to set into all that have been there long. The poem contains various forms of figurative language scattered throughout it. Euphemisms are used frequently by Wilfred Owen to avoid saying exactly what he means in order to allow the reader to figure out his thoughts.

This is a good effect to have, as it ensures that the reader who is willing to take time to understand the poem gets a full understanding of what he has read. He has used hyperbole to exaggerate certain point, such as ‘titanic wars’ and ‘a thousand pains’. Owen’s main poetic device used in ‘Strange Meeting’ is that of manipulation, to avoid stating anything obviously, as well as to make the setting seem darker and more regretting. By doing this he further argues his point that war is evil because no matter how terrible of a place he has made hell to be, it is still better than war.

So in effect, the worse he can describe the pain of hell, even more so can he protest against war. There a good flow within the poem. This can be attributed to the consistent use of ten syllables per line and an interesting style of rhyme. Words that do not actually rhyme, but have a distinct similarity in sound are used, such as wheels and well, and left and laughed. There are some actual rhymes, though. Owen has not directly used this style to enhance the effect of the poem. This does give a very even flow through what could be a boring monologue in the absence of one.

The rhyme is used cleverly so that at first glance, the reader would not immediately recognise it as a rhyming poem, which may decrease the effect for a reader who had this knowledge. It also helps in the flow of the poem. ‘Strange Meeting’ is a well-structured poem about death and war. By use of manipulation it provokes thought. It conveys its meanings well and argues the point that war is worse than hell as well as that enemies at war can be friends off the battlefield and that war is a convention that will go on because of the ignorance of those not involved in battle.

Once the points made by Owen are found by the reader, they are well set out and clear. I have enjoyed analysing ‘Strange Meeting’ and finding many valid points to ponder on along the way. It was only after analysing the subject matter and use of language that I realised the rhyming nature of the poem. I found this a very clever use of words. I was impressed with the monologue by the spirit that produced valid statements about the evil and senselessness of war every few lines. This was a well-presented poem that I recommend to anyone who is willing to indulge into the themes presented by a poem.

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