Louise Glück's "Siren"

Updated on September 27, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Louise Glück



In Glück's poem, "Siren," the narrator is a woman who fell in love with a married man. Her narration unveils some frightening thought processes.

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.

First Versagraph: "I became a criminal when I fell in love"
The opening sounds a bit like a slapstick joke: "I became a criminal when I fell in love. / Before that I was a waitress." The speaker engages a mystery immediately by claiming to have become a criminals after falling in love.

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: "I didn't want to go to Chicago with you"
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: "I wanted her life to be like a play"
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: "Does a good person"
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: "I sat in the dark on your front porch"
The speaker reveals that a while back she sat on her love'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 love 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: "I think now"
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: "I used to tell you my dreams"
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 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 find some way to pay for her crime.

Tribute to Louise Glück, Part 1

Tribute to Louise Glück, Part 2

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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