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Louise Glück's "Siren"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Louise Glück

Introduction and Text of "Siren"

The narration in "Siren" presents itself in nine unriming versagraphs which vary greatly in number and rhythm. They seemed to lurch in a fevered pitch to match the underlying psychological disturbance of the speaker.

The title will remind the literary minded and the enthusiasts for the mythology of Homer's The Odyssey, in which the sea nymphs attracted sailors with their mesmerizing singing, luring them to their deaths. However, ultimately, this speaker seems to be using the term simply to mean seductress or temptress without any meaningful allusion to the myth.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Siren

I became a criminal when I fell in love.
Before that I was a waitress.

I didn't want to go to Chicago with you.
I wanted to marry you, I wanted
Your wife to suffer.

I wanted her life to be like a play
In which all the parts are sad parts.

Does a good person
Think this way? I deserve

Credit for my courage—

I sat in the dark on your front porch.
Everything was clear to me:
If your wife wouldn't let you go
That proved she didn't love you.
If she loved you
Wouldn't she want you to be happy?

I think now
If I felt less I would be
A better person. I was
A good waitress.
I could carry eight drinks.

I used to tell you my dreams.
Last night I saw a woman sitting in a dark bus—
In the dream, she's weeping, the bus she's on
Is moving away. With one hand
She's waving; the other strokes
An egg carton full of babies.

The dream doesn't rescue the maiden.

Commentary

The speaker of this piece unveils a frightening thought process.

First Versagraph: The Crime of Slapstick

I became a criminal when I fell in love.
Before that I was a waitress.

The opening sounds a bit like a slapstick joke, as the speaker claims to have been a waitress and then became a criminal after she fell in love. One might wonder how a reader can be induced to continue reading this piece after encountering such a ludicrous beginning—that is, unless the reader intends to offer a commentary about the piece.

By claiming she was a waitress then became a criminal, the speaker seems to equate those two positions. The reader will likely think of Bonnie and Clyde, who fell in love and then became notorious criminals.

Second Versagraph: Crime of Passion?

I didn't want to go to Chicago with you.
I wanted to marry you, I wanted
Your wife to suffer.

From what seems to be the addressing of a general audience in the first versagraph, the speaker shifts to speaking directly to the married man whose lover she became. The speaker confides to the man that although she wanted to marry him, she did not wish to travel to Chicago with him.

The speaker wanted the man's wife "to suffer." Because the speaker is suffering, she projects her desire for her rival to suffer. No doubt such thinking makes the speaker realize her crime of passion, thus rendering her the criminal she thinks herself to have become. The speaker's thoughts are destructive, and she seems to know that they negatively impact the man's wife as well as herself.

Third Versagraph: Crime of Delusion?

I wanted her life to be like a play
In which all the parts are sad parts.

The speaker continues to declaim about her crime against the wife, saying she wanted the woman to play all the "sad parts," as if in a play. The speaker has become unhinged. She is so jealous of the innocent woman that she allows herself to engage in a rage that renders her delusional.

Fourth and Fifth Verse Paragraphs: Credit for Courage

Does a good person
Think this way? I deserve

Credit for my courage—

As one might expect, the speaker now engages in musing on her criminality. She asks if good people think like this. Of course, that question is rhetorical, she knows good people do not think that way. And she begins to offer what she "deserves" for such thinking, but then she leaves what she deserves for the next versagraph. This trailing off of thought shows that she is still trying to decide exactly what is she deserves. But then she seems to pull herself back from thinking negatively about what she deserves to claim she deserves "credit" for her "courage."

Does she really deserve such credit? Just how has she shown any courage? The speaker seems to be attempting to assuage her criminality, to lighten her guilt for having fallen in love with a married man and then having destructive thoughts about the innocent and wronged wife.

Sixth Versagraph: Stalking Is Criminal

I sat in the dark on your front porch.
Everything was clear to me:
If your wife wouldn't let you go
That proved she didn't love you.
If she loved you
Wouldn't she want you to be happy?

The speaker reveals that a while back she sat on her lover's porch in the dark. Now she is admitting to stalking her lover, which is definitely a criminal act—not just a psychologically criminal act but an act that is against the law.

But then she engages in her own folly of rationalization: if his wife really loved him, she would gladly turn him over to the speaker. After all if the wife really loved him, she would want him to be happy. And these speaker has obviously assumed that only she can make him happy. In the speaker's delusional thinking, the wife's desire to keep her marriage in tact is just a selfish act which demonstrates the wife's lack of love for the man she married.

Seventh Versagraph: Feeling Deeply and Carrying Drinks

I think now
If I felt less I would be
A better person. I was
A good waitress.
I could carry eight drinks.

Continuing in her derangement, the speaker concludes that her problem is that she feels too much; she delusively claims, "If I felt less I would be / A better person." To support this claim, she offers the detail of being a good waitress, able to carry "eight drinks." Of course, the one thing has nothing to do with the other. Feeling deeply and carrying drinks remain unrelated and speak nothing about the character of the deep-feeler/drinks-carrier.

Eighth and Ninth Verse Paragraphs: No Rescue for the Deranged

I used to tell you my dreams.
Last night I saw a woman sitting in a dark bus—
In the dream, she's weeping, the bus she's on
Is moving away. With one hand
She's waving; the other strokes
An egg carton full of babies.

The dream doesn't rescue the maiden.

The speaker now reports that she used to tell her paramour about her dreams. She then describes the dream she experienced "last night." In this dream, a weeping woman is leaving on a bus. The woman waves good-bye to someone with one hand; the other hand is stroking "an egg carton" filled with babies.

The dream is a mashed up yet perfect representation of the speaker's mangled thought processes. Are the babies human or are they just little chicks? Does it matter? The speaker must think not. What is important to her is that this dream, no matter how she interprets it, will not "rescue" her. She is a lost "maiden" who will have to find some way to pay for her crime.

Tribute to Louise Glück, Part 1

Tribute to Louise Glück, Part 2

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes