Strange Meeting - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Strange Meeting

Owen tells of a dream or vision where, escaping from the war, he travels down into a strange place he realises is Hell. Men lie sleeping or dead but one springs up who seems to recognise him. Owen calls him his ‘strange friend’. This man’s conversation makes up the rest of the poem. He clearly shares Owen’s own philosophy and thoughts for the future. We discover that this character is the man Owen had killed the previous day. He invites the poet to join him in sleep.

Investigating Strange Meeting

  • ‘Yet these elegies are not to this generation, this is in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is to warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.’ (From Owen’s planned introduction to his poetry.) What do you think Owen meant by consolatory?
    • Why would he not want his poems to be seen in that way?
  • What does Strange Meeting add to our understanding of what Owen meant when he said all a poet can do is to warn?
    • What truths are told in this poem?

Commentary on Strange Meeting


Strange Meeting is thought to have been written early in 1918, the last year of Owen’s life, while he was training to return to the front. Both Owen’s childhood and wartime nightmares were the source of this poem. Siegfried Sassoon called the poem Owen’s passport to immortality.

The title

Owen’s poetry was influenced by his early reading of the Romantic poets Keats and Shelley. Owen took the title of this poem from Shelley’s poem The Revolt of Islam

And one whose spear had pierced me, leaned beside,
With quivering lips and humid eyes;-and all
Seemed like some brothers on a journey wide
Gone forth, whom now strange meeting did befall in a strange land


WW1 casualties in trenchThe idea of meeting your enemy, even the one who had killed you, in a strange No Man's Land is implied in the Shelley poem, as well as the concept of brotherhood. In Strange Meeting Owen creates a situation in which the two men see beyond the war and hatred:

It seemed that out of battle I escaped l.1

to a place where the truth could be told and friendship established. To access this place Owen has travelled:

down some profound dull tunnel l.2

Even as a child these sort of dreams had haunted Owen.

As the men in the opening lines of The Send Off went to war ‘down close darkening lanes’, so Owen moves ‘down’ but away from the conflict. The tunnels have been ‘long scooped’, suggesting great age. Their antiquity is further emphasised by Owen’s use of the word ‘Titanic’ to describe the wars by which they have been ‘groined’, an architectural term describing a vaulted roof. ‘Titanic’ relates to size (and Owen would have been very familiar with the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic in 1912), however the word has its roots in Greek mythology. The first Greek gods were the Titans, who were overthrown in a war with the gods of Mount Olympus. Owen is creating a sense of place which goes back to the dawn of time.

Another source for the setting may have been Owen’s familiarity with the Arthurian legend in which the mythical British King Arthur and his knights sleep in a cavern until they are required to fight again. Growing up on the borders of Wales, Owen could have been familiar with the legend of The Sleeping Warriors of Craig y Ddinas which includes the awakening of a knight who is then enjoined to ‘sleep on’.

More on The Sleeping Warriors of Craig y Ddinas?

Past, present and future

Owen links the long past, with its epic wars l.3, with the very recent past ‘yesterday’ l.42. In the present tense of the poem ‘that other’ soldier speaks of ‘the undone years’ l.15.and the fearful future which will unfold as a result of the destruction of war:

Now men will go content with what we spoiled l.26

The changes made by the war will seem the norm and be accepted, or 

alternatively cause discontent which will cause more lives to ‘be spilled’. Owen envisages that there will be further conflict and destruction in the course of which ‘nations trek’ away ‘from progress’ l.29.

The main voice of the poem is that of the dead German soldier, to whom Owen attributes his own attitudes as the man outlines the way in which the world might have been saved.

Investigating commentary on Strange Meeting

  • Sassoon thought that this poem would seal Owen’s reputation as a poet. What do you see to be the greatness of this poem?
    • Why do you think this is it sometimes described as Owen’s best poem?
  • What are the difficulties of Strange Meeting?
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