Wilfred Owen’s Strange Meeting: Irony, Potent Imagery, Rhyme Scheme
Out of the many covered topics in literature and poetry, death is one of the most renowned ones. Such a powerful, emotive, and thought-provoking topic, it often evokes the best work out of many authors. One of those authors is poet Wilfred Owen.
Owen lived from 1893- 1918 and had always found solace in poetry. He taught in France, whilst studying different rhyming techniques of poetry. He hadn’t seriously refined his skills until 1917, where life had introduced him to one of the most poignant experiences he’d ever endure. The Wilfred Owen Association elaborates, “In 1915 Owen enlisted in the British Army. His first experiences of active service at Serre and St. Quentin in January-April 1917 led to shell-shock and his return to Britain” (WilfredOwen.org). His poem Strange Meeting renders this experience.
From lines 11-15, the narrator makes a peculiar observation. After he has realized that he is in hell, the first thought is not one of fear, but one of a welcomed and warm relief. Owen writes, “Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground, / And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan” (Owen, 11-15). This observation implies that even hell is better than the horrors one bears on a battlefield. He reminds the reader that not all wounds are external when he writes, (Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were” (Owen, 39). This figurative or metaphorical bleeding shows that you don’t have to be pierced by a bullet or with the metal shards of a bomb to be wounded. He gives us a gateway into his own pain through these words.
Owen not only portrays the true atrocities of war, but also gives the reader a new outlook on death. It is often feared, but literature usually suggests an abnormal view on death. Owen does just this. He also shows the irony in death. The last lines of the poem read
“’I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for you so frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . .’” (Owen 40-45).
Despite the fact that these men were enemies only a day before, Owen proves to us that death makes us all equal. We will all experience it one day. This last line resonates with the reader not only in its blatant profoundness, but also in the fact that it’s a full-circle ending. In the beginning the narrator realizes that he recognizes this man, but doesn’t specify where from. The fact that he has an epiphany at the end helps to emphasize the powerful statement that death is one thing that connects us, that brings us together in the end.
Owens use of ambiguity in this poem may appear slight, but does not go unnoticed. He uses slant rhyme, which can also be known as approximate rhyme. For example, he rhymes words such as “friend” and “frowned”, “laughed” and left”, or “world” and “walled”. He does this for almost every line. This is no accident, or shortcoming of Owen’s rhyming talents. He does this to show how two very different things are actually significantly similar. For example, one theme this poem emanates is the equality in pain of physical versus mental pain. The words friend and frowned are very different, but Owen uses them in a way that allows the reader to hear their atypical soundness. By analyzing this, we think in a way that brings us to realize the abnormal connection between the themes in this poem. Some things that are connected, but aren’t typically seen that way are life and death. Owen also wants us to see that even when fighting a war, soldiers are all very similar. They are all fighting (maybe unwillingly) for a cause, they all believe the other side is wrong, and they all have confidence they are right. Owen takes this idea and throws it in our face by having the two soldiers meet once again, but in hell.
Owens use of irony, potent imagery and rhyme scheme in this poem, Strange Meeting, is the bridge that brings the reader to see the terrors of war and the outlook on death that Owen possesses. Without his pure ability to speak a hard truth so elegantly, I can assert that the reader would not be able to cross this rare bridge into a unique outlook on death.
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