Literary Analysis : Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting"
"My subject is war" wrote Wilfred Owen.," and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity." Owen is different from his contemporaries, Julian Grenfell and Rupert Brooke in that he does not glorify war but treats it rather as a tragic and devastating experience, and treats the victims with compassion. Edmund Blunden labels the poem "as the most remote and intimate, tranquil and dynamic, of all Owen's imaginative statements of war experience."
The speaker imagines himself to be dead. In the underworld he encounters a German soldier he had killed the previous day in the battle. The underworld is a long ominous tunnel .The poet utilizes the word 'seem' to depict a trance-like situation where the whole experience is akin to a dream. The granite in the tunnel seemed to rub against each other echoing the melancholy of several titanic wars. The narrow tunnel drives home the narrowness of the situation. The speaker treads the tunnel crowded with sleepers who groan in their slumber.The poem is remarkable for the use of half-rhymes,that consistly in the end-syllable have the same consonant sound,but different vowel sounds. For instance"groined and groaned","scaped and scooped"etc. The speaker investigates whether these people are dead or alive, when a person suddenly springs up as he recognizes the speaker. In one of the most evocative lines in English literature, he says:" I am the enemy you killed, my friend." However, he does not harbor feelings of detestation or vengeance. Only the mutual feeling of sympathy towards themselves, as they were the victims of a catastrophic war. They seem to share the sentiment that "the best way to win a war is to prevent it."
The speaker cannot comprehend as to why the soldier looked so sad as the terror of the war cannot reach them there. The soldier asserts that he regrets over the years wasted .At that point they are united in their aspirations, for they had the same worldly ambitions and sensual desires. He uninhibitedly hounded exquisite beauty, found not in calm eyes or plaited hair. Rather he pursued a timeless kind of beauty .And now he grieves even "richlier" over his past, as in the underworld, there was no room for improvement as compared to the earth where he could have made amends.
The greatest lament for the soldier is his inability to educate the world on the aftermath of war. He was capable of making his joviality contagious; and penning his melancholy in verse thereby commemorating it. The wars that would follow would be more devastating to humanity and prove regressive to human development. The coming wars would be like the mad fury of the tigress that is more ferocious than that of the male species. He would never opt to be a part of such a war .Rather, he would race to the battlefield when the chariot wheels were clogged with blood. He would wash their wounds with edifying truths and infuse them with his constructive spirit.The words "too deep for taint" are an echo of Wordsworth's "that lie too deep for tears". He would certainly avoid the culvert of war.
He identifies his attacker,the speaker from the frown on his face that he had worn on the previous day while killing him. The poem ends on abrupt note saying "Let us sleep now...'Death that is a form of sleep is the panacea to the inexorable hostilities. It is the escapable route to the inescapable war.
© Rukhaya MK 2012
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