by Wilfred Owen
Analysis: Form and Meter
Slant Rhymed Couplets in Irregular Iambic Pentameter
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: a slant rhyme is a rhyme that isn't full or perfect (cat and hat are examples of a perfect rhyme). This entire poem is made up of slant rhyme. Look at hall and Hell, moan and mourn, hair and hour. These words sound a lot alike, even if they don't exactly rhyme. Of course, there are a few variations. The last line, for example, is cut off, so there is no corresponding rhyme. It's on its own.
So we have to ask: what's the point of using slant rhymes instead of perfect rhymes? Did Owen flunk his rhyme exam in poetry school? Of course not! This guy's a pro.
For one thing, slant rhymes are a little easier on the ear. Sometimes perfect rhymes can get a little, well, Cat in the Hat, especially if they're smack dab next to each other like in this poem, and especially if they go on for forty four lines. In this poem, perfect rhymes would be distracting, obnoxious even. The slant rhyme allows Owen to use a subtle formal element to tie his poem together without bashing us over the head with it.
Plus, in the same way that it's unifying, it can also be disorienting, like hearing a faint echo. The slant rhyme adds to the dreamlike, almost discombobulating state that speaker number one is probably experiencing. Things seem sort of normal at first, but then we realize that there's something off here. He's just been dumped into hell, and not that we're experts on what it's like to end up in hell, we imagine that it would be pretty trippy.
About Those Couplets
The slant rhymes come in couplets, heroic couplets, to be exact. The slant rhymes are at the end of each line, and come in sets of two lines. So every two lines, you'll have a whole new set of slant rhymes.
The fact that Owen chose heroic couplets in a poem about war is pretty slick (we didn't exactly chat with him over the phone about it, but it seems perfectly intentional). When we think of war, we often think of war heroes. The tricky thing about heroic couplets here is that most of the poem is dedicated to talking about how war is a bust, and how there's nothing heroic about killing your fellow man. In the case of this poem, we think Owen's use of heroic couplets is a little bit ironic, and the slant rhyme definitely pokes holes in all that heroic perfection.
You might notice the lines are of mostly equal length. That's no coincidence. Owen wrote this poem in iambic pentameter, which affects the rhythm and syllable count of each line. An iamb is an unaccented syllable followed by accented one (daDUM, or to use and example from this poem, it SEEMED). Penta means five (think pentagram), and meter just refers to the rhythmic pattern of the lines themselves. So a line of iambic pentameter is made up of five iambs (each iamb has 2 syllables), for a total of ten syllables: daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM.
Just like the rhyme in this poem, there are variations in the iambic pentameter, too, which you might be able to spot yourself. We'll give you a hint: metrical variations in iambic pentameter often come at the beginning of a line where the first iamb is inverted or backwards—so the stress is on the first syllable instead of the second.
Here's one: AFter. It would be weird to say afTER, and Owen isn't trying to weird you out anymore than he already is with this "Strange Meeting." He uses the metrical variations to keep the lines sounding natural, smooth, and even conversational. If this guy ever took a poetry class, you know he totally aced it.