Friday, May 6

On a WWI poet:

Strange Meeting (Wilfred Owen)

. / . / . / . / . / I.
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
. / . / . / . x / . /
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
. / . / . / . / . /
Through granites which titanic wars had groined. II.

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,-
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains 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 that 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, III.
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here. IV.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled. V.
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, VI.
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. VII.
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 . . ." VIII.





I. I've scanned the first few lines with meter, caesera, etc. but the whole poem would make it more difficult to read, and there are some inconsistencies/puzzling bits which I'm not sure of--that's take a dissertation, and I am merciful. However, these three lines scanned are enough to show that the poem is mostly in iambic pentameter. There are definite trochaics, though; I just have a bit of trouble with them.


II. Look at where I've places the italics running for a few lines downwards--though there is even a paragraph break, you can see how the assonance is created; not rhyming, but nevertheless creating an audible similarity, absolutely laden with meaning (compare some of the words, look at their connections).


III. These three lines are the only place where the assonance is tripled instead of grouped as a couplet; almost all the rest are couples.


IV. Between the repetitive "grieves, grieves", there is a caesura disguised as a comma . . . It is repetitive because of the use of the same two words and emphasized by the pause; like in Tennyson's Mariana with the whole "aweary, aweary", the poet wants you to stumble and look back at those words.


V. This line is curious


. / . . / . / . / . /
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.


That would make the line a little awkward, but read it out loud; the word you are caught on is the first "pity". We'd read it:


The PITY of WAR, the PITY x WAR disTILLed.


So he makes you stop with the first "pity" because of the dual syllables. I suppose you could read it thus:


The PIT-yof WAR, the PITy WAR disTILLed.


And yes, I meant to squish "pity" and "of" together--but that just sounds stilted. The second example seems to make most sense to me; strike a chord with anybody else?


VI. The two lines are trochaic (I think).


/ . . / . / . / . /
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
/ . . / . / . / . /
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:


At least, they start out with trochees. This is, again, to emphasize the qualities being named. The repetition is here, too, and the assonance to a height--"mystery" and "mastery" are far closer than "hair" and "hour".


VII. Antithesis! Oh, that is much better, something I'm more used to. Death does make men brothers far more quickly than anything else I can think of at the moment.


VIII. There are some more trochees before this, I think, but I agonize over them. For this, this line is the only one that doesn't have repetitive assonance, or anything of the sort; it breaks off into silence without even filling the meter guidelines. This, again, to emphasize the quickness of death and how it simply brings men down to a common denominator.

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