Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Analysis of Wilfred Owen's "Strange Meeting"



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. 


Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
"Strange, friend," I said, "Here is no cause to mourn."
"None," said the other, "Save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
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.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now ...

Analysis
Wilfred Owen was brought up in a very devout household, and it wasn’t until he left his mother’s house that he became increasingly critical of the role that the Church played in society. Owen enlisted in January of 1917 and fought in the Battle of Somme until he suffered shell shock, and was sent to Craiglockhart hospital to recover in May of 1917. While in the hospital, he met Siegfried Sassoon, a fellow poet, who influenced much of Owen’s later poetry. While in the hospital Owen experienced horrible nightmares due to the shell shock, and he would use these dreams as inspiration for his poetry. One image plagued his dreams, which was the idea that war was a sort of “mouth of hell,” and it was this image that inspired Owen’s poem Strange Meeting. Owen’s poem is also reminiscent of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Revolt of Islam, which also depicts a journey through a strange land. Wilfred Owen’s main objective when writing his poetry is to shed light on the gruesome and horrific reality of being a soldier, which counters the nationalistic propaganda that depict soldiers as honorable, proud, and heroic. Many soldiers came home mentally and physically disabled, which is the exact opposite of what people expected.

Owen was a master of poetic devices; he often used pararhyme, half-rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and assonance to fully involve his reader in the tone of his poem. Pararhyme is when the stressed vowel sounds differ, but are flanked by identical or similar consonants; the second rhyme is usually lower in pitch than the first, which produces the effect of dissonance, and failure. Examples of pararhme are: groined/groaned (lines 3-4), and hall/hell (lines 9-10). Half-rhyme is consonance on the final consonants of the words involved. Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant two or more times in short succession. Half-rhyme can introduce a slight note of discord. An example of Half-rhyme is: swiftness/tigress (line 28). Alliteration is the repetition of an initial consonant sound in the first syllables of a series of words and/or phrases, which helps to convey imagery and stress timing. It also helps to make a line more memorable. An example of this is: grieves/grieves (line 21). Onomatopoeia is when a word imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. Examples of this are: groaned (line 4), sprang (line 6), and thumped/moan (line 13). Assonance is the refrain of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming within phrases or sentences. An example of this would be through/wounds (line 38).     



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Acknowledgments
Wilfred Owen image: http://www.shropshirestar.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Wilfred-Owen.jpg


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