Siren Song

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade November 2001

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Robert Layman English 1B/ Dr. Walter October 24, 2001 "Siren Song:" Do you Dare go on and Read? Margaret Atwood's "Siren Song" is a wonderfully tricky poem that seduces the reader as cleverly as it does its doomed listener. The reader does not realize that he or she has been taken in, until it is too late. The poem is in three parts. The first section (lines 1"“9) recounts the sirens and their deadly songs. The siren, a sea nymph in Greek Mythology, is described as having the body of a bird and the face of a woman. The sirens had such sweet voices that the sailors who heard the songs were lured into grounding their boats on the sharp rocks where the sirens sang. Many readers will recognize the legendary monsters (half bird, half woman) from the Odyssey. Their name has become synonymous for any dangerously alluring woman.

The second section (lines 10"“24) switches gears suddenly, as one of the sirens confesses to us her unhappy plight. She offers to tell us the secret of her irresistible song, but she mainly talks about herself and cries out for help. Then, without knowing until it is too late, we are in the final section (the last three lines) in which we realize that we have been lured into the siren's emotional grasp. Through the three main sections of the poem, Atwood uses the mythological siren to help depict the modern day siren. The modern day siren is a lady that does not enjoy luring men into her grasp, but inevitably does so. Atwood employs such devices as imagery and tone to express and comment on the role of the dominating "siren" that some women play in their relationships.

The poem begins with the modern day siren explaining the "irresistible" song: This is the one song everyone would like to learn: the song that is irresistible (l 1-3): In the first stanza Atwood leaves us with a feeling of curiosity. She did not give the reader any clue as to what this song might bring him/her. She only lets the reader know the song is irresistible, making the reader wanting to read more. This is true of the modern day siren. When the modern day siren meets a man she does not reveal the outcome of past relationships. She will save this information for a later time when she thinks the man is ready to hear it and will not runaway. The siren then goes on to say: the song that forces men to leap overboard in squadrons even though they see the beached skulls the song nobody knows because anyone who has heard it is dead, and the others can't remember (l 4-9).

Here, the siren informs the reader how powerful the song is. The modern day siren lures the man in even though he knows about her past and how she has tossed men aside. In this scenario, the man is too mesmerized by the modern day siren's beauty and thinks that being tossed aside cannot possibly happen to him. While reading stanzas one through three, the reader develops a sense of how the siren acts and does not quite understand that the siren really does not want to live a life of decadence.

Atwood's siren speaks not only of the destructive nature of her song, but also the unhappiness that the role of the siren brings her. She says: Shall I tell you the secret And if I do, will you get me out of this bird suit (l 10-12)? The "bird suit" she mentions is used to hide the reality of the nature of the individual. With those lines she is implying that, in exchange for the secrets behind the siren song, she is asking the mortal man to free her from the constraints of her deceptive existence. Attempting to explain her unhappiness, she also says: I don't enjoy it here squatting on this island looking picturesque and mythical with these two feathery maniacs, I don't enjoy singing this trio, fatal and valuable (l 13-18).

Here she further invokes the siren imagery, completing the notion with the reference to the trio that lures sailors to their deaths. She calls the trio "fatal and valuable," implying that while they draw men to a rocky demise, the song they sing is something that others want. This is why the secrets of the song are important. A song that can be used to draw others in, to get whatever one wants from one's victims, can be quite a desirable possession if one does not know the fate that accompanies the use of the song.

In the seventh stanza of the poem, the imagery and tone take on different attributes than they did earlier in the poem. Rather than continuing to sound as though she were really remorseful about her nature, the siren begins to sound as if she is drawing in another victim. The stanza reads almost hypnotic like, saying: I will tell the secret to you, to you, only to you.

Come closer (l 19-21).

The hypnotic tone serves very well to lower the defenses of the person to whom she is singing. With the next verse of her song, the siren eliminates any hope her victim might have had for escape. She says: This song is a cry for help: Help me! only you, only you can, you are unique (l 21-24).

The song continues its fluidity, and speaks with words that anyone is glad to hear in a relationship. The siren tells her victim that he is special, that he is not like her previous lovers. She tells him that he is the only on that can set her free, which will draw him closer. The reader can see here that the siren is once again at work, as it is impossible not be drawn in by the beautiful way the words link to one another as she sings. But is the siren as helpless as the reader thinks she is? The siren is not at all a helpless creature as she shows the reader with the last few lines of her song. She is perfectly capable of existing on her own terms, and she even seems slightly bored with this cat and mouse game she plays with the men in her life. It becomes obvious to the reader that the siren is not repentant about her actions or the choices she makes. She says: Alas it is a boring song but it works every time (l 25-27).

It sounds almost as though she would rather be somewhere or someone else, rather than sitting on her separate island with nothing but memories of victims. Perhaps it is because she has been singing the same song for a long time.

Margaret Atwood's poem "Siren Song," provides the reader with insight into the role of a contemporary siren. The tone she uses at first implies remorse, tricking even the reader into believing her story, but quickly changes to show her artificial nature. The "bird suit" the siren wears covers up her true nature. Just as the mythological sirens were doomed to live their lives on a rocky island, so too are the modern day sirens doomed to wear a "bird suit." The modern day siren can thank society for the "bird suit" she has to wear. Many modern sirens/vixens behave the way they do because society tells women to be sexy and provocative. Most of these women do not want relationships that kill, but those that have been using men for a long time tend to lose their heart and forget how to be faithful and loving.