“Siren Song”- By Margaret Atwood

This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
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.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

Most of the metaphors used here have a certain tongue-in-cheek quality as if they are used to merely laugh at the subject, the poem’s theme and in the manner of presenting it- a sort of the poet enjoying herself. The sirens are Greek mythological allusions, deliberately introduced to get a laugh about the so called feminine power derived from attractive helplessness. The allure the sirens have for the sailors is derived from their song everyone would like to learn that is so irresistible but the song is not heard by anybody because everybody who has heard it is dead and if anybody alive has heard it he does not remember it. Which means we have no verifiable evidence of the existence of such a song.

May be the song never existed or the sirens. it is the same song that made sailors fling themselves overboard in droves(squadrons) in pursuit of the sirens , while fully aware of the beached skulls that were the earlier sailors who attempted a similar misadventure. Such is the fatal charm of the three sirens whose song pulls the wary sailors to the islands only to turn them into beached skulls.

“beached skulls” is erstwhile sailors drowned in the sea pulled by the sirens song and have landed on the beach. But was the song so captivating that men died by it? Actually, that is not true, between the two of us, says one of the sirens.It is just a cry for help.It does not the exemplify the power of female charms or the melody of its song . And the song is such a boring one! Somehow it seems to work all the time.

But female charms do endure.They make you feel you are unique and only the one who can deliver the sirens from their situation.The damsels in distress do need valiant souls to come to their rescue.

The whole situation of the sirens is not all that picturesque as we may imagine. The three sirens have to squat in the islands, far from the picture of an idyllic situation. They “squat” between them , the three feathery creatures singing their boring song .In addition, they have to wear that stupid bird costume all the time. All for the pleasure of looking picturesque and mythical.

The poet makes fun of the traditional female allure that is supposed to exercise power over the male by fatal attraction. It takes a lot of effort to keep up the myth of female power over men.In the whole process she debunks the archtype of female desirability cultivated from apparent helplessness.

Advertisements