Strange Meeting


Wilfred Owen was an acclaimed World War I poet for his shocking accounts of the realities of war, in sharp contrast to the popular patriotic verses and public's perception of war at the time. An enduring quote from Strange Meeting:

"Courage was mine, and I had mystery; Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery."

He, along with his mentor and friend, the poet Siegfried Sassoon, offered searing verses to truly honor the memory of the fallen. In his introduction to Owen's collection, Poems, Sassoon writes: "His poems can speak for him, backed by the authority of his experience as an infantry sodier, and sustained by nobility and originality of style. All that was strongest in Wilfred Owen survives in his poems...He never wrote his poems (as so many war-poets did) to make the effect of a personal gesture. He pitied others; he did not pity himself. In the last year of his life he attained a clear vision of what he needed to say, and these poems survive him as his true and splendid testament."

Strange Meeting
Cheshire Regiment trench on the Somme, 1916
     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 . . ."

         (This poem was found among the author's papers.
         It ends on this strange note.)

       *Another Version*

     Earth's wheels run oiled with blood.  Forget we that.
     Let us lie down and dig ourselves in thought.
     Beauty is yours and you have mastery,
     Wisdom is mine, and I have mystery.
     We two will stay behind and keep our troth.
     Let us forego men's minds that are brute's natures,
     Let us not sup the blood which some say nurtures,
     Be we not swift with swiftness of the tigress.
     Let us break ranks from those who trek from progress.
     Miss we the march of this retreating world
     Into old citadels that are not walled.
     Let us lie out and hold the open truth.
     Then when their blood hath clogged the chariot wheels
     We will go up and wash them from deep wells.
     What though we sink from men as pitchers falling
     Many shall raise us up to be their filling
     Even from wells we sunk too deep for war
     And filled by brows that bled where no wounds were.
         *Alternative line—*

     Even as One who bled where no wounds were.

Featured in our collection of World War I Literature

If you enjoyed Owen's work, you may like the poetry of Vera Brittain, World War I nurse, poet, and pacifist.


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