Having read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, I found a clear message in this poem right away. Although Atwood is not necessarily the speaker, I can pick out her voice coming through this poem, for she is a strong promoter of women's rights. Not having previous knowledge of the author would have made this poem more difficult to understand. It is clear that the speaker, whoever it may be, is resentful of her job as a siren. She is simply being used for her voice, beauty, and femininity to seduce sailors and trick them into coming ashore, where they will surely meet their deaths. "I don't enjoy it here / squatting on this island / looking picturesque and mythical" (Atwood 13-15). She is stuck with this job only because she is a woman, and she feels suppressed by it. What she really wants is help, "This song / is a cry for help: Help me!" (21, 22).
One major literary device used in this poem is allusion, for the entire poem is an allusion to Greek mythology. A siren is a beautiful woman/creature with bird-like characteristics who lures sailors to their deaths with her beauty and voice. Using Greek mythology to portray a current concern, women's rights, stresses its importance. If this issue can be dated as far back as Greek mythology goes, it is clearly an issue that must be addressed. The speaker is basically saying that it's about time someone should fix this problem, seeing as it has been around since the beginning of time.
Another literary device used is repetition. The speaker, the siren, uses repetition when addressing the reader, "I will tell the secret to you, / to you, only to you / ...Help me! / Only you, only you can, / you are unique" (19-24). This repetition stresses that the reader of this poem, "you," is the only person that can possibly help her. "You" is someone who is reading these words that the siren has written - they have not been seduced or put under the influence of her beauty or voice. The reader is not a pitiful sailor who has fallen for the siren's beautiful song, but is now the only person who knows of her true feelings and thoughts, for all others who have met her are dead. It is as though this poem is a message in a bottle that the speaker put out as her last chance of being rescued from her suppressing role as a siren. It also makes it more personal, and it hits the reader at a deeper level than if she did not address them at all. To try and get her point across as best as possible, the speaker must emphasize that this single, unique reader is her only chance, her last hope.
This poem is written in free verse - there is no rhyme or meter whatsoever. This could perhaps be the speaker's form of rebellion. She has been forced as a siren to sing this "boring song" for years, and by writing in free verse, she is eliminating any element of song. There is no rhyme, no rhythm, no flow or movement, and no repetition of a particular stanza, like a chorus would be repeated.