The Manipulative Sirens and Their Victims in Margaret Atwood's Siren Song
In Homer's Odyssey, the Sirens are mythical creatures whose enchanting voices lure sailors to their deaths. These women have fascinated people ever since Homer sung the lines of his epic, inspiring artists of many genres from oil paintings to films. In her poem "Siren Song," Margaret Atwood re-envisions the Sirens to draw a comparison between the myths and modern life. Atwood portrays men as victims of "Sirens" (women) by making her readers the victims.
Atwood begins her poem with the speaker mysteriously introducing a secret. Speaking to her audience, the Siren--whose role is played in real life by women and paralleled by poets--attracts attention immediately with her luring phrases and vocabulary: "This is the one song everyone / would like to learn: the song / that is irresistible..." (1-3). Even with the word "siren" screaming, "Warning! Danger!" the loud ringing serves only to catch more notice. Readers respond with interest, wanting to hear this song and wondering why it is "irresistible" (3). Atwood uses colons in this first stanza as her tool for pulling readers into her story. Her colons hint at the revelation of this great secret; readers must read on to discover it.
Rather than stopping abruptly, Atwood carries her thought to the second stanza by beginning it with a lower case letter. However the speaker does not continue that thought by telling the secret right away as the reader would expect. Instead Atwood gives the speaker a seductive voice through her description of the enigmatic power of the Siren song. The speaker teases readers with evidence of its strength that "forces men / to leap overboard" (4-5), plunging to their deaths. She paints a picture of these men as completely under the control of the Siren enchantresses. Atwood's imagery of "beached skulls" in line thirteen proves to readers that the Sirens' victims know their fate. The men know they are being sucked into the women's trap. Readers know they are being pulled into a whirlpool of chaotic and capturing poetry--but the song is so "irresistible" (3) that neither tries to escape.
Atwood begins the third stanza with "the song" (7), again using lower case letters to lead readers towards the revelation. Her repetition of "the song" in the first three stanzas illuminates a theme of hypnotic phrases that runs its course through the poem. Ironically readers falls into the "irresistible" (3) trance by listening to the tales of its destructive nature: "anyone who has heard it / is dead..." (8). Atwood also alludes to the story of Odysseus with the phrase "others can't remember" (9), Odysseus being the only man who escaped the enchanting voices of the Sirens. The readers' curiosity mounts with the allusion to the man who had to be bound to keep him from "leap[ing] overboard" (5) to his death. They beg to know what kind of song this is and the power that is holds. The poet is the Siren to her...