Poet: Wilfred Owen 1893–1918
Period/Place: Georgian England
Subjects/Themes: War & Conflict, Living, History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Death
Poetic Terms Used: Consonance, Couplet
COMMENTARY 2-SHORT BIOGRAPHY.
Wilfred Owen was born on March 18, 1893. He is considered to be one of the leading WWI poets. He served in the British army during WWI. His family lived comfortably in Owen’s grandfather’s house until he died in 1897, then the family had to move to the poorer part of Birkenhead. He went to Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury Technical School. He began writing poetry when he around ten years old, and continued to write until his death. He was raised in the Anglican church of the evangelical school; he was a devout believer in his youth. He was admitted into the University of London in 1911, but due to his family’s financial struggles he had to work as the lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden as a pupil-teacher at Wyle Cop School for free lodging and some tuition. During his time at Dunsden parish that he became disenchanted with his religion. He was working as a private tutor at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France when WWI broke out. On October 21, 1915, he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles Offiers’ Training Corps. On June 4, 1916 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. Owen began the war optimistically, but after two traumatic events his mindset changed. First, he was blown high into the air by a trench mortar and landed in the remains of a fellow officer. Second, he was trapped in an old German dugout for days. He was diagnosed with shell shock and sent to the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh. It was here that he met Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon had a huge impact on Owen’s life and poetry. Owen’s poetry became dark as he portrayed the horrors of the front line as realistically as he could. His poetry went against the public perception of the war at that time; it helped to open the eyes of the non-militant people back home. He returned to light regimental duties in March of 1918 at the Northern Command Depot at Ripon. He wrote a number of poems while he was in Ripon, the most notable are “Futility” and “Strange Meeting.” He returned to the front line on October 1, 1918, and led the Second Manchester. While he was trying to cross a canal, he was shot in the head and died. WWI ended one week later. He was later awarded the Military Cross, which for him validated him as a war poet.
COMMENTARY 3- ANALYSIS OF IMPORTANT LINES
“Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.”
Q: Who are referred to here as being “Too…bestirred”?
ANS: Engrossed in a strange fantasy the speaker in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting finds himself, after having made an escape through death from the battlefront, in a strange place, which is, of course, nowhere other than hell, among lifeless soldiers, the victims of the war, who, now remain huddled together silenced either by the thought of their unfortunate lives on earth or by the fact of being dead.
“With a piteous recognition in fixed eye…Lifting as if to bless.”
Q: Who is talked of here? Explain the phrase “Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.”
ANS: In a bizarre poetic fantasy, conceived of most pathetically, the speaker in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting finds himself in hell among the victims of the war, and comes across a soldier –killed by none other than the poet himself yesterday—to rise up before him suddenly to stare at him with pitiful recognition of past acquaintance and to lift his hands in a painful labouredly gesture of blessing, an act which is, of course, possible now, as death levels all and there can be no enmity after death.
“And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.”
ANS: In a bizarre poetic fantasy, conceived of most pathetically, the speaker in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting finds himself among the victims of the war huddled together in the underground of grave created by the explosion of the shells, and comes across a soldier –killed by none other than the poet himself yesterday—to rise up before suddenly him to stare at him with pitiful recognition of past acquaintance and with a strange smile of a lifeless being. These unusual circumstances lead him to conclude that the strange place is hell itself.
Q: Who is the speaker here? Explain the significance of the words.
ANS: As the speaker in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting, recognizes the enemy soldier killed by him yesterday and the place of the strange meeting in hell after death, he tells him that now there can be no grievances, as death puts an end to all kinds of enmity.
Q: Where do you find the line? What is the context of the reply?
ANS: In a reply to the dry ironical understanding of the speaker in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting that after death there can be no grievances in hell, the enemy soldier, killed by the speaker himself yesterday, speaks of the past life on earth most pathetically. He now understands that all his years on earth came to nothing as the dreams and hopes of a young man remained unfulfilled.
“Which lies not calm in eyes…richlier than here.”
Q: What does the poet refer to as ‘which’ here? What is his conception of that? Why does he mean by “grieves richlier than here”?
ANS: While talking of his shattered dreams on earth, the enemy soldier in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting voices to his killer, the speaker his idea of beauty that it does not reside in the beautiful calm eyes of a woman nor in the plaits of hairs of some woman. Beauty, according to him and to Owen as well, is eternal in that it produces pure joy, which is necessary for happiness on earth. Since his life on earth terminated untimely, he laments that he could not enjoy beauty or joy of life nor could he become cause of joy to others.
Q: “For of my weeping..the pity of war distilled.” Explain.
ANS: While talking of his shattered dreams on earth, the enemy soldier in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting voices his grievances to his killer that had he been alive he could have told the unenlightened peoples of the world how he suffered at the cost of his life for some fictitious ideological causes, how war hits mankind; for, he now knows the essence of war and peace, life and death.
Q: “Courage was mine…are not walled.” Explain.
ANS: Before going to expose his identity, the enemy soldier in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting tells his killer, the speaker that he had the courage to face the naked truths of war, and that he had the enlightenment, like Christ, that mankind makes a retreat from civilization in violence through war and reaches a place, which is unprotected like the fortresses giving in to decay and destruction. That is why he did not kill the speaker yesterday.
“Then when much blood…for taint.”
Q: who is the speaker here? Why does he say so?
ANS: Before going to expose his identity, the enemy soldier in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting tells his killer, the speaker that, since he has known the deepest truths about war and peace, life and death, he hopes to go forward to cleanse the soiled spirits of the victims of war with the power of his secrets when the machines of death and destruction in another war of the same magnitude will spill human blood.
“I am the enemy…you killed …in the dark.”
Q: Who is the speaker here? How did he know him?
ANS: It is only towards the end of their conversation that the enemy soldier exposes his identity to the speaker in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting that he is the enemy soldier killed by the speaker yesterday in the battlefield. The enemy soldier recognizes the speaker on his arrival in hell by his frowning; for, yesterday, while thrusting his sword into his body in the battlefield, he frowned in the same way. But the enemy soldier felt loathed to react in the same way and laid his life before him.
“Let us sleep now…”
Q: Who says this and why?
ANS: Towards the end of their conversation the enemy soldier exposes his identity to the speaker in Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting that he is the enemy soldier killed by the speaker yesterday in the battlefield. But now after their death since they are now in hell, there can be no enmity. Therefore, they can now sleep in peace forever.
Q: What does the title of the poem “Strange Meeting” signify?
ANS: Everything in Wifred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting is strange. It is a strange poetic fantasy. It deals with an encounter between the speaker and supposedly unknown or strange person, the enemy soldier killed by the speaker yesterday in the battlefield. Again the encounter takes place in the strangest place of all, hell. but above all, the stranger speaks of his strange experience and realization of war and peace, life and death. Finally, the reader undergoes a set of strange feelings while going through the poem.