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.

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1This is a Photograph of Me

2Journey to the Interior

3The Settlers

4Speeches for Dr Frankenstein

5Disembarking at Quebec

6The Planters

7The Two Fires

8Death of a Young Son by Drowning

9The Immigrants

11Thoughts from Underground

12Pig Song

13Siren Song

14Song of the Hen's Head

15The woman who could not live with her faulty heart

16All Bread

17You Begin

18Variation on the Word Sleep



22Miss July Grows Older

23The Loneliness of the Military Historian

24King Lear in Respite Care


26The Moment

27Morning in the Burned House

10Visit to Toronto, with Companions

20A Sad Child