Dear Diary, I just killed an enemy soldier, and now it's totally freaking me out! It seems like we'd been under fire for days. We hadn't left the trenches in… oh, I don't know how long. I hardly remember his face. When I lifted my bayonet it was as if I was dreaming. I don't know what propelled my arm, but all of a sudden he was motionless. Dead. Now that's what I keep seeing every time I close my eyes. If I can't forget, I'll never sleep again. Fearfully, Wilfred Owen
We know this poem has way more going on than any measly diary entry, but it's worth pointing out that Wilfred Owen was definitely pulling material from his personal experience to write this one. Sure, we can't vouch for its total accuracy, but Owen was a British soldier in World War I. WWI was one of the bloodiest and most gruesome wars ever, and Owen wasn't spared any of this. He shot and killed enemy soldiers, and was shot at himself. He experienced so much trauma on the battlefield that he had to be given temporary leave for shell shock (what we'd call PTSD today).
Wilfred Owen didn't write a ton of poetry. He wrote most of his poems over a span of a year, and many of them were about the war, because what else was there to write about? He was completely engrossed in the fighting for years.
"Strange Meeting," published posthumously in 1920, hits a particularly eerie note because it portrays the speaker in conversation with a dead guy—specifically a soldier he's responsible for killing—and, oh yeah, they're in hell. We're thinking this is the kind or horrifying scenario that only a World War I poet could envision.
Was Owen clairvoyant? Could he foresee that he'd meet his maker in the battlefield? Who knows, but that's just what happened. In November of 1918, Owen was killed in action. Although he died young (he was only twenty-five at the time), his poems live on as some of the most vivid and powerful war poetry written in history.
Why Should I Care?
Right now, as you read this, there is war going on in the world. As you skim through your Instagram feed and check out the snack situation in the fridge, one soldier may be killing another soldier.
And, to be honest, you don't have to travel to the battlefield to find enemies killing one another. Turn on the news. There's gang violence. There's racial violence. There's domestic violence. People have made enemies of each other for all kinds of reasons, and they're killing each other because of it. We're not bringing this up to be the world's biggest downers, we're pointing it out because this poem, which was written a century ago, still has plenty to offer the ears of today.
And what's it saying? That this enemy, this person you've either learned or decided to hate enough to kill, might not be all that different from you after all. And what's the point, really? If you're going to make this huge sacrifice—killing another human being and potentially losing your own life in battle—it should probably be for a really good reason. If war does nothing but push us backwards as a country (which is what Owen believed), then all that fighting and killing is probably a pretty dumb idea. You're better off using your powers for good, like becoming the best poet of your generation. Or, in Owen's case, you do both.