by Wilfred Owen
Lines 9-21 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
- Looks like things just keep getting worse. Our speaker is walking amongst the dead in hell. That's got to rank pretty high on the "worst case scenarios" list.
- Notice how Owen drags out the suspense just a tad longer before he flat-out states that they're in hell? He describes it as a sullen (gloomy and sad) hall first, then lets it rip in the following line.
- There's an extra creep factor in the fact that this dead guy is staring at him, apparently recognizing him, and smiling.
- Something to think about: What is our speaker doing wandering around hell with a bunch of dead dudes? Does he even deserve to be there?
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.
- Line 11 basically just says that this dude is scared. His face looks like it's made up of "a thousand fears."
- But, notices our speaker, there doesn't really seem anything to be afraid of. For once, there's no bloodshed, and no sounds of gunshots hammering in their ears. Like we read in the first line, "it seemed that out of the battle [they'd] escaped." So what's everybody so freaked out about?
"Strange friend," I said. "Here is no cause to mourn."
- Our speaker, having noticed that they're out of war, and that there's no more bloodshed or gunfire, tries to ease this dead guy's mind.
- It's cool, he says, there's no reason to be so bummed out. Except for, you know, being dead and all.
"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,
- What follows is the dead guy's (or, speaker number 2 as we'll call him from now on) response.
- He doesn't really agree with our speaker. He's like, "Sure there's nothing to mourn—oh, except all of the years he never got to live." He's bummed because he'll never get those years back, and that fills him with a sense of hopelessness and despair. If he's feeling robbed of years of his life, maybe he was pretty young when he died. (That makes sense; a lot of the soldiers who fought in World War I were a mere 18 or 19 years old.)
- Then he brings our speaker into it. He says whatever hopes, dreams, and aspirations you had for your life, I had, too. He's basically saying, I was just like you, with my whole life ahead of me, then I was robbed of it. If our speaker was feeling at all at ease, this guy is sure to be bringing him down at this point.
- He keeps piling it on. He says he lived his life in pursuit of wild beauty, but that again, he was never able to find it because his life was cut short.
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.
- The beauty the second speaker looked for in life wasn't really a physical beauty. It "lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair."
- Maybe it was a deeper beauty—like the beauty you find in art and literature? The beauty in peace or truth? It's hard to say.
- Either way, he's not finding any of it where he is now. Which is hell, in case you forgot.
- How could beauty "mock the steady running of the hour"? Well, to mock means to tease, and "the steady running of the hour" probably has something to do with the constant passage of time. Maybe that means that beauty isn't something anyone can fully find in his lifetime. It's just too awesome, and maybe also too fleeting for any one man to tack down.
- Even if beauty could grieve—and we're not really authorities on the grieving capabilities of beauty at Shmoop, but take it from this dead guy—it would grieve more intensely, or "richlier," than it ever could in hell. Which doesn't make a ton of sense, but from the whole "dull" description Owen gave us early on in the poem we can guess that nothing can be truly vivid, or thrive, in hell; certainly not beauty.
- This guy's getting pretty deep, and he's probably a little wacky from hanging out too long in hell. The important thing to remember is that he's bummed he missed out on life. He feels like it was cut short.