The Sirens

Updated: Jan 15

Envisioned by James Russell Lowell

 

Food for thought while reading: "the sirens" referred to in this poem are the mythological creatures who sing the most splendid melodies to sailors at sea, enchanting them and drawing them to themselves. Every one who hears these sweet harmonies dies by the hands of these same sirens. There is only one who was ever to have survived these creatures: the great adventurer Odysseus from Homer's The Odyssey. He survived by being tied to his ship's mass by his crew (who all were commanded to plug their ears with wax while passing). Odysseus indeed was deceived by these beautiful creatures and called ought to be released into their melodic embrace, but his crewmates couldn't hear him and so he lived to tell the tale. Nevertheless, the sirens are a symbol of deceit and of false beauty.

 

The sea is lonely, the sea is dreary,

The sea is restless and uneasy;

Thou seekest quiet, thou art weary,

Wandering thou knowest not whither;—

Our little isle is green and breezy,

Come and rest thee! Oh come hither,

Come to this peaceful home of ours,

Where evermore

The low west-wind creeps panting up the shore

To be at rest among the flowers;

Full of rest, the green moss lifts,

As the dark waves of the sea

Draw in and out of rocky rifts,

Calling solemnly to thee

With voices deep and hollow,—

"To the shore

Follow! Oh, follow!

To be at rest forevermore!

Forevermore!"


Look how the gray old Ocean

From the depth of his heart rejoices,

Heaving with a gentle motion,

When he hears our restful voices;

List how he sings in an undertone,

Chiming with our melody;

And all sweet sounds of earth and air

Melt into one low voice alone,

That murmurs over the weary sea,

And seems to sing from everywhere,—

"Here mayst thou harbor peacefully,

Here mayst thou rest from the aching oar;

Turn thy curvëd prow ashore,

And in our green isle rest forevermore!

Forevermore!"

And Echo half wakes in the wooded hill,

And, to her heart so calm and deep,

Murmurs over in her sleep,

Doubtfully pausing and murmuring still,

"Evermore!"

Thus, on Life's weary sea,

Heareth the marinere

Voices sweet, from far and near,

Ever singing low and clear,

Ever singing longingly.


It is not better here to be,

Than to be toiling late and soon?

In the dreary night to see

Nothing but the blood-red moon

Go up and down into the sea;

Or, in the loneliness of day,

To see the still seals only

Solemnly lift their faces gray,

Making it yet more lonely?

Is it not better than to hear

Only the sliding of the wave

Beneath the plank, and feel so near

A cold and lonely grave,

A restless grave, where thou shalt lie

Even in death unquietly?

Look down beneath thy wave-worn bark,

Lean over the side and see

The leaden eye of the sidelong shark

Upturnëd patiently,

Ever waiting there for thee:

Look down and see those shapeless forms,

Which ever keep their dreamless sleep

Far down within the gloomy deep,

And only stir themselves in storms,

Rising like islands from beneath,

And snorting through the angry spray,

As the frail vessel perisheth

In the whirls of their unwieldy play;

Look down! Look down!

Upon the seaweed, slimy and dark,

That waves its arms so lank and brown,

Beckoning for thee!

Look down beneath thy wave-worn bark

Into the cold depth of the sea!

Look down! Look down!

Thus, on Life's lonely sea,

Heareth the marinere

Voices sad, from far and near,

Ever singing full of fear,

Ever singing dreadfully.


Here all is pleasant as a dream;

The wind scarce shaketh down the dew,

The green grass floweth like a stream

Into the ocean's blue;

Listen! Oh, listen!

Here is a gush of many streams,

A song of many birds,

And every wish and longing seems

Lulled to a numbered flow of words,—

Listen! Oh, listen!

Here ever hum the golden bees

Underneath full-blossomed trees,

At once with glowing fruit and flowers crowned;—

So smooth the sand, the yellow sand,

That thy keel will not grate as it touches the land;

All around with a slumberous sound,

The singing waves slide up the strand,

And there, where the smooth, wet pebbles be

The waters gurgle longingly,

As if they fain would seek the shore,

To be at rest from the ceaseless roar,

To be at rest forevermore,—

Forevermore.

Thus, on Life's gloomy sea,

Heareth the marinere

Voices sweet, from far and near,

Ever singing in his ear,

"Here is rest and peace for thee!"

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