Margaret Atwood’s “Siren Song” is a lyric that consists of nine three-lined stanzas that neither possess any recognizable rhyme scheme nor rhythm. The speaker of this poem is a mythical creature, a Siren, who addresses us, the audience, when she speaks of the victims whom she lured through the enticing song she sings. The overall tone of this poem is sarcastic and quite sinister.
The title itself immediately depicts the theme and speaker of the poem. The whole poem is an example of classical allusion, referring to Homer’s Odyssey.
The Sirens within the Odyssey are said to be captivating women who sit on an island and lure men with their tantalizing song and beautiful voices, causing them to jump out of their ships and die. The title of the poem forewarns us, and with a name like “Siren”, the audience should comprehend its literal meaning: “Danger! Warning! Avoid if you can!”, but we, as readers, want to know more about the Siren’s song, anyway.
With naïve arrogance, we approach the subject, thinking we are strong enough to turn away if things take a turn for the worse, after all, it is just a song.
In the first three stanzas, the Siren introduces and briskly elaborates on her tempting song. “This is the one song everyone would like to learn: the song that is irresistible”, she says. She begins to lure us into her trap as we become curious as to why the song is so compelling. The Siren explains how men jump overboard after hearing her song, even though they see the skulls that are scattered around the island.
Most would think that this is an obvious indication as to the outcome for the “squadrons [of men]” as well. Her song is one that “nobody knows because anyone who has heard it is dead”, which should also deter the audience from wanting to hear her song, but we are still, of course, tempted. These first three stanzas serve as an “alluring warning”, in a sense.
Through the next five stanzas, she continues to say that if we assist her “out of [her] bird suit”, she “shall tell [us] the secret”. We are left, curiously, to find out what the secret is. The image of a “bird suit” is a symbol for the conformity the Siren endures, or rather, what she wants us to believe she endures. She says she doesn’t enjoy “squatting on [an] island, looking picturesque and mythical, with two [other] maniacs”. She makes us believe that all she wants is to be freed from being trapped in her “bird suit”. She tries to convince us to “come closer”, and continues to make us feel special, saying that we are “unique”, and that “only [we]” can help her. She insists that her song is really “a cry for help”, and that she’ll tell us her secret – all we have to do is lean in and continue to listen to her tantalizing song.
“Alas it is a boring song but it works every time”, says the Siren in the final stanza. Her song, her cries for help – they all have been a ploy to lure in her next victims. Maybe, her promise to reveal her secret was kept, after all. Perhaps her secret was the fact that her song will always work. She describes her song as “boring”, and seems almost amused with the outcome of her trap, as though her devious ways are second nature. Regrettably, however, we fell victims to her conniving personality and enthralling song, even after being warned from the moment we read the title.
“Siren Song” by Margaret Atwood is a beautiful poem that cleverly describes the method the Siren uses to catch her victims. The poem takes on a sinister and seductive nature, which leaves us to be quite the opposite of “unique” – another victim of the Sirens.