Poem introduction

'Siren Song' - the Sirens had the top halves of women and the bottom halves of birds and they were said to sit on their island and sing so beautifully that anybody who heard them would jump overboard and then they would eat these men - they were always men who did this. Ulysses was said to have been the only person who ever actually heard the siren song because he made his sailors stuff their ears with wax and he had them tie him to the mast so he wouldn't jump overboard. But he never told what it was they actually sang therefore nobody has ever known. So this is what they did really sing.

Siren Song

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 the beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who has 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.

Now you know. Don't listen.


in the UK from Eating Fire (Virago, 1998) © Margaret Atwood 1998; in the US from Selected Poems I (Houghton Mifflin, 1976), © 1976 Margaret Atwood, and from Selected Poems II (Houghton Mifflin, 1987), © 1987 Margaret Atwood, used by permission of the author.

Books & cds by Margaret Atwood