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Strange Meeting

Strange Meeting

by Wilfred Owen

Analysis: Sound Check

If there's a poetry equivalent to the soundtrack of the descent into hell, this is it. Oh wait, maybe Dante's Inferno already cornered the market on that one, but "Strange Meeting" isn't too shabby in the tension-building, dread-inducing sound effects department either.

In the "Form and Meter" section, we discussed how the slant rhymed couplets and iambic pentameter created a smooth and regular rhythm to the poem. We like to think of it as a particularly dreadful and slow march into hell.

As each couplet unfolds, we find out more news about where we are and what's going on—and none of it is good. The regularity of the iambic pentameter keeps us chugging along, and the not-so-perfect rhymes urge us to the next line, and we go willingly, even though we should probably know better. It's kind of like the creepy music in a horror movie: we know the protagonist totally should not open that door, but we also can't wait to see what's behind it.

But wait, there's more. The repetition of certain words and alliteration (words beginning with the same sound that are placed near each other) make for a sort of echo effect—like you could have sworn you heard this before but you can't quite place it. The sounds overlap and even meld together, like the voice in a dream, making it hard to distinguish one sonic element from another.

It can get intoxicating, and a little disorienting. Look at how Owen ssssslides us into the poem with all of those S sounds in the first eight lines: seemed, escaped, some, since scooped, sleepers, bestirred, sprang, stared, distressful, and bless. Be careful you don't slip.

The repetition has a similar effect. While the rhyme and meter seem to coax you forward, the repetition is very gently tripping you up—not quite enough so you fall over—but just enough so your ear does a sort of double take. Owen, being the baller that he is, ups the level of difficulty by often modifying the words he repeats ever so slightly.

See how he follows "hope" with "hopelessness," "wild" with "wildest," and "pity of war" with "the pity war distilled." These modifications alter the meaning and the sound, while still remaining familiar. They overlap and twist in our ears, like the tortured groaning of the sleepers.

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