The Way that Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen Portray the War in “The Rear Guard” and “Strange Meeting”
In this essay, I will be comparing the way that Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen portray the war in ‘The Rear Guard’ and ‘Strange Meeting’. I will be writing about the content of each poem, where each poem is set, what each poem reveals about the war, how each poet uses language and structure in the poems, why I think each poet has written their poem and my personal response to the poems. The poem ‘Rear Guard’ is about a man who is going through a tunnel and is looking for headquarters. He sees a man lying on the floor as if he was asleep but finds that he is dead. In the end, he makes it out of the tunnel.
The poem ‘Strange Meeting’ is about a man who ran into a tunnel after escaping from something. In this poem the man also sees a man lying on the floor as if they were asleep, but this time one of the men jumps up – he was a ghost – the man in this poem thinks that he is in hell. During his ‘Strange Meeting,’ the ghost explains how terrible it is to die young. At the end of the poem, the ghost tells the man that it was him who killed him, and they should be friends and rest peacefully. I think that both of these poems are quite similar. For example; in both of the poems the men meet dead people who they called ‘ sleepers’. This means that both of the men are dead and are lying there on the floor as if they are asleep.
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Another similarity in both poems is that they are set in a tunnel. The tunnel is used as a metaphor for hell: “uploading hell behind him…” the tunnel is compared to hell because it means dying and being dead as that is what both the men found inside the tunnel. By comparing the tunnel to death and hell the writer makes us realize that these men are close to dying and that they are fading away slowly as they go deeper into the tunnel. In both of the poems the men are showing what they have learnt about the war and what war has done to them and others in the poem ‘ The Rear Guard’ when the dead man doesn’t answer he kicks him and says ” God blast your neck!!” This shows that these men have been dehumanized by the war, they have become aggressive against everyone because of their tiredness.
In the same way in the poem ‘Strange Meeting’ it says “Whatever hope is yours was my life also.” This shows that by fighting in the war they have gained nothing, but the government continues to send men to war to rip each other apart but that solves nothing; the war is bringing no progress. In ‘Strange Meeting’ the narrator shows that he had also been convinced by the propaganda to come and fight at the war but the man says, “I went hunting wild After the wildest beauty…” This shows that the man had also died like a soldier and only came to war for adventure and to save the women. The fourth similarity between these two poems is that both of them are written as a story. Both the poems use a narrator and there is speech used in them both. They are both told us a story of when the men went into the tunnel.
The next similarity in the poems is that in both of the poems the tunnel is referred to as hell and people dying. We also know that the men are scared because they move forward slowly as they do not know what danger lies ahead. Some of the poetic techniques used in both poems are similar. For example; both the poems use irony. The irony used in ‘The Rear Guard’ is that ‘ a man is human only when he has died’. This means that the men only realize that the others are human as well when they have died. The example of irony that is used in ‘Strange Meeting’ is ‘the man/narrator wanted to be remembered but war is something that everyone wants to forget’. This means that he wants to be remembered because of fighting in the war but everyone wants to forget the loved ones that died in the war because it was too painful.
Another similarity in the poems ‘Rear Guard’ and ‘Strange Meeting’ is that they both have an irregular rhyming pattern in them. The words from the end of each line rhyme with others but in both poems, they are not in a particular pattern. In the poems, there are differences as well. The first difference is that both the poems have a different structure to each other. The poem ‘Rear Guard’ has a very irregular verse pattern, and ‘Strange Meeting’ does not have verses at all it is all in one. The second difference is that in the poem ‘Rear Guard’ the poet has used figurative language for example; ‘stinking’. This has been used for effect it makes the reader think that these men are really fed up and can not take it any longer, they have become very impatient.
The third difference in the poems is that in ‘Strange Meeting’ the poet uses oxymorons for example; “strange friend”. This means a friend who is a stranger that is not possible because how can someone be a friend if they are a stranger. By using oxymorons the poet shows the confusion of the soldiers. In ‘Strange Meeting’ the poet has used contrast for example; “By his dead smile”. This means that the man is in pain but he is still smiling. How can somebody be smiling whilst in pain? The fourth difference in the poems is that ‘Strange Meeting’ has mostly used Para rhyming which is a word that nearly rhymes but not totally. An example of a Para rhyme is ‘groaned’ and ‘groined’ these words almost rhyme.
The fifth difference between the two poems is that in ‘Strange Meeting’ the poet has used onomatopoeia. For example; “guns thumped”. The writer has used the word ‘thumped’ to describe the noise of the guns because that makes us feel that the shooting is in the distance and also that the man is fading and that he can not hear anything properly. Another difference in the two poems is that in ‘Rear Guard’ the man is already inside the tunnel and looking for a way out but in ‘Strange Meeting’ the man has just entered the tunnel after escaping from the chaos and killing going on outside. The last difference in the poems is that in ‘Rear Guard’ all the way through the tone stays the same most of the time. But in ‘Strange Meeting’ the tone changes quite a few times. In the beginning, he is in a panic and is scared but then there is peace when he feels that the man has ‘blessed’ him. And then he gets scared and confused again.
I think that the poem ‘Rear Guard’ was written to tell everyone about the bad conditions the men lived in and the way that their lifestyle has changed because of the war and the experiences they had while fighting. I think that the poem ‘Strange Meeting’ was written to tell everyone that there is no point in wars. It was to tell everyone that nothing was right and that the government was wrong to keep sending men to fight and lose their lives for no reason because the poet Wilfred Owen felt that there was no purpose to war and that there would definitely never be any progress if it all continued the way that it was. I think that the most effective poem is ‘Strange Meeting’ because it tells us more about what was happening and also makes us feel sympathy for the men that lose their lives because it is very effective and makes us feel that the men are fading away (dying).