Explain the lines “It seemed that out of battle I escaped…Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred from “Strange Meeting”

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred. (Lines 1-5)

These are the opening lines of Wilfred Owen’s poem Strange Meeting. The poet, an English soldier, was killed in action in the First World War. Before his death, he wrote a number of poems, in which he represented the horrors and the pity of war. This is one such poem, written in the last phase of his life.

The present poem, too, deals with the destruction and havoc, wrought by war. The theme is presented through an imaginary discussion between two soldiers of the rival camps who seem to meet in hell. The English soldier falls in a dream and fancies himself passing out of the battlefield through some underground tunnel, burrowed through rough and cold rock. This tunnel, says the poet must have been dug long ago by thousands of wars that have taken place in the world since the appearance of man. The suggestion is that the history of man is full of wars, fought savagely and pitilessly. Having passed through this tunnel, the poet seems to have arrived at a place, full of bodies lying on the ground. They lie in heaps, one upon another, and are scattered all over so that the poet is unable to move about freely. A few of the bodies are found to groan, while others lie stiff and rigid. With a touch of irony, the poet says that this utter motionlessness is either due to deep thought into which they have passed or due to death. When people are absorbed in meditation, they make no movement. Perhaps, these people lying on the ground are brooding over their unhappy fate. They have been killed in their youth by war.

The lines remind one of the horrible scenes, on a battlefield. Owen’s picture here is vivid but fraught with the deep pathos of war.

Also read: Explain the title of the poem Futility by Wilfred Owen