Siren Song

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.

– Margaret Atwood


I like Atwood’s poetry for many reasons – the lovely imagery, the choice of subjects, and in this particular case, the darkly delicious humor. The conversational tone of (presumably) one of the sirens as she talks about luring men to their deaths, the sense that perhaps she is also trapped in this triad, and the way the poem winds up are very nicely done. It certainly *is* the song everyone wants to hear – that they’re wanted, needed, special; and perhaps taxing on the one doing the luring. How many times, and in how many different ways can you say this same thing, and still be sincere?

And more interesting – why is the damsel (or young man, let’s not be sexist here) in distress such an attractive proposition, well-nigh irresistible to most? Perhaps for the very reasons brought up in the poem.

Here are some other poems by Atwood we’ve run.

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  1. By Is/Not – Fiat Camena on July 21, 2012 at 08:01

    […] and another in the Paris Review here. We’ve run poems by Margaret Atwood on this site before; Siren Song, The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart, and Variations On The Word Sleep. Be Sociable, […]

  2. By You Fit Into Me – Fiat Camena on August 4, 2012 at 08:05

    […] not forget. You can read other poems by Atwood we’ve run on this site here: Is/Not, Siren Song, The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart, and Variations On The Word Sleep. You’ll […]

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