Summary and Analysis

“Siren Song,” by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is spoken by one of the sirens of classical mythology. Sirens were often imagined as figures who were partly women and partly birds. They sat along sea coasts and sang songs so appealing that the mariners who heard this singing might easily be lured to their deaths, often by shipwreck. Often the sirens were supposed to be three in number, a detail that seems implied by Atwood’s text. In this poem, one of the sirens, bored with her literally monotonous life, reveals the secret nature of the sirens’ singing.

The phrasing of the poem is simple, plain, and straightforward. There is nothing especially enchanting or mysterious about this particular siren’s song. Instead, it is a rather prosaic work about singing that is legendarily sublime.

The poem begins by asserting that everyone would like to learn how to sing in irresistible ways. Presumably people desire to learn such singing not only because it is supposedly beautiful but also because it involves enormous power. Irresistible singing gives the singer immense influence over listeners; such singing, at least in classical mythology, is enough to lure men to their deaths (4-6). As Atwood’s siren describes the effects of such singing, she makes it sound all the more mysterious and intriguing. The more she speaks of its results, the more we want to know of its nature.

Yet just when the siren has begun to exert the very kind of enticing influence she describes, the tone of the poem suddenly changes from the sublime to the ridiculous:

Shall I tell you the secret

and if I do, will you get me

out of this bird suit? (10-12)

The phrase “bird suit” is totally unexpected and is quite funny for that very reason. Up until this point, the siren might have seemed pleased with her singing and with her status as a powerful temptress. Lines 11-12, however, make her sound quite contemporary and exasperated. She is tired of her cramped, limited,...

(The entire section is 850 words.)