Friday, April 04, 2008

Strange Meeting — a National Poetry Month Poetry Friday post

Two days ago, I posted a bit about rhymed couplets, and yesterday I gave you some further examples. But in Wednesday's post, after talking about Fezzik's rhyme ("No more rhymes now, I mean it!" - "Anybody want a peanut?"), I also mentioned slant rhyme. "Slant rhyme" is something near a rhyme, but not exact.

One of the masters of slant rhyme, also called "near rhyme" and "pararhyme" was the noted war poet, Wilfred Owen, whom many of you may remember for his poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" (which I shared in a previous post). Owen lost his life in World War I, the first of the "modern" wars where technology (in the form of mustard gas and early automatic weapons) played a decisive role.

In light of Owen's depiction of death in war, I think that his choice to use slant rhyme for this next poem is particularly appropriate. It twists what is expected, in the same way that war twisted his perception of the world. But let's move on to the poem.

Strange Meeting
by Wilfred Owen

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;
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..."

You can hear this poem read aloud at Classic Poetry Aloud. The poem is a dialogue between two dead soldiers, as I'm certain you've deduced. And in a reversal of Rabelais's last words (quoted to great effect by John Green in Looking for Alaska), the soldiers discuss a bit of the "Great Perhaps" of what their lives might have been, but for the war.

1 comment:

Classic Poetry Aloud said...


Thank you for the mention and also for posting this poem. It is - I believe - Owen's most hauntingly moving. It deserves to be remembered.

Classic Poetry Aloud