Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, SIREN SONG, by MARGARET ATWOOD

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

SIREN SONG, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Siren Song" is a poem by Margaret Atwood, published in her 1974 collection "You Are Happy." The poem presents the mythological Sirens as creatures who use their seductive voices to lure sailors to their deaths, but it also subverts the traditional narrative by giving a voice to one of the Sirens and revealing her own desires and vulnerabilities.


The poem begins with the Siren speaking directly to the reader, acknowledging that she is "a dangerous song" and inviting the listener to "come closer." She then goes on to describe her situation, admitting that she is "stranded" on a rocky island with her fellow Sirens and that she longs to escape her lonely existence. The Siren describes her own voice as "a birdcall / harsh and urgent" that she uses to attract the attention of passing ships.

As the poem progresses, the Siren reveals her frustration with her own role as a seducer and her desire for a different kind of relationship with humans. She admits that she is "bored with being a siren" and longs to have a genuine connection with a human being. However, she also acknowledges that she is bound by her nature and cannot help but use her voice to lure sailors to their doom.

Poetic Elements:

  • Imagery: Atwood uses vivid descriptions of the Siren's surroundings, including the "rocky island" and the "beached skulls" that surround her. These images create a sense of isolation and danger, and contribute to the overall mood of the poem.
  • Tone: The tone of the poem is seductive and melancholic, reflecting the Siren's longing for connection and her awareness of her own destructive powers.
  • Structure: The poem is written in free verse and does not have a consistent rhyme scheme. It consists of three stanzas, each with varying numbers of lines, which creates a sense of fluidity and movement throughout the poem.
  • Irony: The poem subverts the traditional narrative of the Sirens as purely evil and instead portrays them as complex characters with their own desires and vulnerabilities. This creates a sense of irony as the Siren laments her own situation even as she uses her voice to lure sailors to their deaths.


"Siren Song" is a thought-provoking poem that challenges traditional myths and archetypes. Atwood's portrayal of the Siren as a sympathetic character with her own desires and frustrations adds a new dimension to this well-known myth, and invites readers to consider the ways in which societal expectations and limitations can impact individual identity and agency.

Poem Snippet:

This is the one song everyone

would like to learn: the song

that is irresistible:

the song that forces men

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