Strange Meeting - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery in Strange Meeting


The power of Strange Meeting lies in Owen’s use of language rather than in his creation of imagery. Owen’s similes and metaphors in Strange Meeting are not simple and straightforward. In line eight the soldier lifts his hands ‘as if to bless’. It is possible to read this as a comparison, a simple simile describing the way the hands are raised. However the whole idea of friendship and forgiveness works against that interpretation; he is in fact literally blessing his killer. The hands raised ‘as if to bless’ are in fact raised in blessing. 

Owen describes people of the future as being ‘swift with the swiftness of the tigress’ l.28 giving the impression of speed and violence more terrible than the contemporary war. 


‘beauty.... mocks the steady running of the hour’ l.20 - The mocking nature of beauty is a personification closely linked with the metaphor of time running out. This image comes from an hour-glass where sand runs through a waisted flask to mark the passage of time.

‘much blood has clogged the chariot wheels’ l.33 - This is figurative only in part. The ‘chariot wheels’ suggest an ancient war but also represent the machinery which drives forward any and every war. The desire to ‘wash them from sweet wells’ l.35 is a picture of how the soldier longs to cleanse and purify the bloodshed in so many battles. The image of living, healing water comes from the Bible where it is an image of healing, cleansing and the eternal life offered by Jesus (see John 4:7-14, Revelation 7:17). It is also found in The Send-off where the few returning from the battle field seek out ‘village wells’. The blood is not metaphorical. 

‘I would have poured out my spirit without stint’ l.37 - This shows the willingness of the soldier to make sacrifices for truth. The idea is that the soldier would sacrifice his ‘spirit’ l.37 in the cause of freedom, rather than blood. This echoes Owen’s personification of war l.25 which results in the distilling of pity. The literal product of the distillation process is pure spirit. Owen gives us a picture of war being reduced to pity. The man wants to pour out this pity without holding anything back. The biblical sources of this metaphor would have been very familiar to Owen with his strong Bible-based upbringing.

More on 'I will pour out my spirit'...: There are no fewer than four biblical references to God promising to pour out his spirit, which is the phrase used by the dead soldier in Strange Meeting.
  1. Isaiah 44:3 ‘For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.’
  2. Ezekiel 39:29 ‘I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel,’ declares the Sovereign Lord.
  3. Joel 2:28. ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.’
  4. Acts 2:17 ‘In the last days’, God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’
Notice the close association between the out-pouring of the Spirit with the dreams and prophecies that are so central to Strange Meeting    

‘Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were’ l.39 - This is a metaphor for psychological suffering. It is also a reference to Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44:

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

The biblical image re-enforces the sacrifice that the soldier is prepared to make. The image of Christ as sacrificial victim and peacemaker suggests the concept of the ‘greater love’ which so many showed in the war.

More on Greater Love...: Christ says to his followers:

‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ John 15:12-13.

Owen’s poem Greater Love is based on this precept. In a letter of 1917 Owen wrote the following: 

'Christ is literally in no-man's-land. There men often hear His voice: Greater Love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life - for a friend. Is it spoken in English only and French? I do not believe so. Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.’


‘The cess of war’ l.38 - The ‘strange friend’ is not however prepared to pour out his spirit ‘on the cess of war’. A cesspit was a primitive method of collecting sewage. This strong, crude image reflects the depth of feeling Owen and the soldier have about war.


Owen uses personification more than metaphor in Strange Meeting

  • ‘That sullen hall’ of l.10: Hell takes on a human mood
  • ‘No guns...down the flues made moan’ l.13: reminds us of the angry guns of Anthem for Doomed Youth
  • ‘The pity war distilled’ l.25: suggests that war is the distiller who creates the spirit or essence of pity. Something which is distilled is said to be purified; it is reduced to its essence.
  • ‘Vain citadels’ l.33: the wall-less fortresses of the future reflect the vanity of humanity (or it could be that they have been constructed ‘in vain’ as they will not hold back the forces of destruction).

The personification of places, weapons and the war itself makes the ‘strange’ friend’s message stronger.


Owen uses oxymorons in the ‘dead smile’ l.10 of the ‘Strange friend’ l.14 as he brings together those who have been on separate sides of the chasm of war.


  • Hell: It is ironic that this is where Owen arrives when he escapes the war, thereby conveying his fears for the future of humanity
  • Blood and water: Blood l.12,34 symbolises the agony and loss of life due to war and water the means of healing
  • Guns symbolise the destructiveness of war
  • Friendship and beauty stand for what Owen sees as the counterbalance to war with its hatefulness and ugliness
  • Pity is a major theme but also symbolic of all that Owen seeks to write about in his poetry.

Investigating imagery and symbolism in Strange Meeting

  • The power of this poem lies in Owen’s use of symbolic language rather than in his creation of imagery. How far do you agree with this statement?
    • Why do you think that Owen felt that the poem needed symbols?

Themes in Strange Meeting


The key theme of the poem is the need for reconciliation. Owen uses his poetry as a way of expressing his philosophy about the pity of war and ‘the truth untold’ (line twenty four). Owen introduces the idea of the greater love essential to wash the world clean with truth. 

Hunting wild after the wildest beauty in the world l.17 is another theme which Owen explores. His search for beauty and truth was inspired by his reading of Keats:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

This quotation from Ode to a Grecian Urn inspired a younger Wilfred Owen but was replaced in his later years by the philosophy and prophecy he puts into the mouth of the strange friend. 

The future

Owen foresees a post-war period with the world changed for the worse by war. He expresses his fear that:

Men will go content with what we spoiled l.26

- that they will accept the shattered world as the norm. The alternative will be ‘discontent’ and further regression into ‘this retreating world’ - a frightening (and accurate) prediction of events.

The power of poetry

In order to halt this course of events, Owen, through the strange friend, explores ways in which poetry and pity can restore the human spirit. The poet has the courage, mystery, wisdom and mastery to stop ‘the trek from progress’ l.28. When the flight can go no further and the nations retreat into ‘vain citadels’ l.33; when ‘much blood had clogged their chariot wheels’ l.34, the poet will ‘wash them from sweet wells’ and reveal ‘truths that lie too deep for taint’ l.36. In order to achieve this, Owen - the poet, the strange friend, the Christfigure - ‘would have poured my spirit without stint.’ l.37

Investigating themes in Strange Meeting

  • This, of all Owen’s poems, most strongly carries the theme of the pity of war and the idea that ‘the poetry is in the pity.’ Make a list of quotations from this poem which you could use in any essay on the way in which Owen presents the poetry through the pity, rather than the pity through the poetry.
    • Use two or three of the quotations you have chosen to make a statement about Owen’s claim that the poetry is in the pity.
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