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 Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting”as “the most remote and intimate, tranquil and dynamic, of all Owen’s imaginative statements of war experience.”
In an age of neo-imperialism based on power-politics, Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting” is indeed significant. An analysis of the poem reveals how Owen overwrites the hollow romanticism and chivalry that war has been traditionally associated with it. He foregrounds the calamitous effects of the same. Though the war upheld lofty ideals, it was opposed to progressiveness and humanity in general. The poet transcreates a corporeal world, where the dead soldier comes in contact with a person he had killed the previous day underground. The narrowness of the tunnel signifies the narrowness of the situation. The speaker’s treading over the slumbering soldiers points to the neo-colonialist stance that has countries stepping over humanity and relegating principles to climb up the ladder.
The granite that rubbed against each other in the tunnel echoed the devastation of several titanic wars. The groining voice of the granite is also emblematic of protesting voices that are stifled. The speaker states an evocative line ” I am the enemy you killed, my friend.” The statement is a paradox semantically, but the unusual situation lends meaning to the same. It is indeed a strange meeting as death and life, enemy and friend, chaos and tranquility are juxtaposed into a single frame. There is also transference of identity between the killer and killed as they are united in moment of self-realization. Also note how relationships alter within the span of a single day as the words ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ are uttered in a single breath. The poet comprehends that they were in hell through the dead smile of the soldier that though existed at that point, lacked warmth. Though his hands are raised to bless, it is in vain and distressful to the beholder. They were now beyond the realm of blessings and curses. The morose hall now comes across as hell.
The face of the soldier was convulsed in pain though they were far removed from the horrors of the war. The speaker assures him that there is no cause for mourning save the years that have been wasted and the hopelessness; for it is hope that makes one live. They once shared the same aspirations and pursued the ‘wildest beauty in the world’ that lies not in tranquility(calm eyes) or embellishment(braided hair). It is that rare beauty that defies the ravages of Time, the universal destroyer. He now laments twice more than the grievance of the place itself as he could have lent significance and meaning to the others’ lives rather then indulge in the catastrophe of war. The speaker ascertains that his capacity to cry must end here, as he no longer deserves to grieve anymore as there is no more room for remorse. He could have instructed the people on the truth of War that was far from chivalrous. It only was regressive to humanity:
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
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. Either men will be content over their respective victories or discontent and endeavor on yet another war. Here, ’blood boily’ would be spilt, where emotion and humankind would be wasted in vain. The coming wars would be as ferocious as the female tigress that is more dangerous than the male species. There will be no attempts at breaking ranks too; it would turn into a delirious affair. Nations would not turn to war for the sake of progress,but simply for the sake of it.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
The speaker wishes that were he alive, he would wash up the blood clogged in their wheels and wash them up from sweet water from the wells that would rejuvenate and replenish wounds, both physical and mental. Truth would be imparted to them that would cleanse their system. He would then infuse them with the spirit of humanity .
The line : Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.’ has biblical connotations. Before the First World War ,it was often believed that Christ sweat blood before his crucifixion. Compare this with the line found in the alternative version of the poem: ‘Even as One who bled where no wounds were.’ The capitalization in ‘One’ makes it obvious that the allusion is to Jesus Christ.
He identifies his attacker 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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