Effective Use of Revision in Strange Meeting
In writing his poem Strange Meeting, Wilfred Owen uses revision as a tool to both clarify his ideas and re-evaluate one of the central figures in the poem. By examining a reproduction of Owen’s original text and comparing it to the final, published copy, we are able to retrace his steps and, hopefully, gain a further understanding of his thought process and motivations concerning this particular poem. From these examinations, it is evident that Owen spent a large portion of the revision process attempting to alter the character of the “encumbered sleeper”, whom the narrator encounters in hell. These alterations could be viewed as an attempt by Owen to make this “vision” more ambiguous, vague, and otherworldly, and therefore to alter his readers’ perception of this character, the narrator, and the poem itself.
The sheer frequency of revisions concerning the appearance and characteristics of the ghostly figure are staggering when compared to number of revisions made elsewhere in the poem. Perhaps the first thing one notices while examining Owen’s revisions is the long stretch during the figure’s speech in which there are very few marks of revision by the author. In contrast, the sections in which the figure is described, or in which he describes himself, are heavily revised. It appears, then, Owen’s primary difficulty with the first draft of his poem was not with the content of what the ghostly speaker said, but with how the character was portrayed.
Owen pays strict attention during revision to every mention of this ghostly figure. There are at least six changes made to the text concerning the figure’s description, including two changes dedicated solely to the figure’s facial expressions: “With a thousand fears that creature’s face was grained” becomes “With a thousand pains…” (line 11), and an extra line concerning the figure’s “dead smile” is added (line 10). Additionally, may of the seemingly inconsequential or cosmetic revisions made to the poem further indicate Owen’s concern with the representation of this character. Alterations of this nature include the figure being referred to as “that other” in the draft, while he is referred to as “the other” in the final (line 15). While perhaps not constituting a major alteration, this example is noteworthy simply as another demonstration of the level of concern that Owen showed concerning the proper way to portray his character.
Owen also impacts and alters the ghostly figure indirectly by rethinking the descriptions of the hellish surroundings in the poem. In the first draft, Owen uses terms associated with sleep four times—he discusses the encumbered “sleepers” (line 4), describes “slumber” filling the hall (line 10), says that “all was sleep” (line 14), and has the ghostly figure call out, “Let us sleep….” (line 45). In the final draft, however, he retains only two of these references: “sleepers” and “Let...