Here's a poem that uses a lot of irony, like Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess," which you worked on back in.
The poem we are studying has an essay question.
Think about how you might respond to the question and poem.
You should read the poem carefully and then write a well-organized essay in which you discuss the author's use of language to convey her themes.
A Siren is a character in classical Greek mythology who lured sailors to their deaths by singing a seductive song.
Margaret Atwood wrote Selected Poems.
There are some differences between prose and poetry.
Poems deal in compressed language.
Most of the poems on the AP English Literature exam are lyric poems, which use a convention, simple on the surface but infinite in its varieties and depth.
The speaker of the poem is addressing the reader directly as a result of a dramatic situation.
You may be able to understand a poem more quickly if you pay attention to the convention and component parts.
Most of the poems on the AP exam will fit into this convention.
"Siren Song" is the one we've chosen to discuss.
The Idea Machine was introduced in the previous chapter.
Three questions apply to the poetry essay.
When you are writing about poetry, question 2 should be considered a drop-down menu.
The more answers you can find to the questions under question 2, the better your essay will be.
Let's look at a specific poem to see how this works.
This one could be the focus of a long discussion.
A full class period could be spent analyzing it as a group of interested students slowly circled it, discovered small details about it, and found ways to express their discoveries to each other.
You don't have the time.
The Idea Machine strategy can be implemented on the day of the exam.
We will not be looking into the many possible interpretations of the poem.
To answer the question, you have to figure out what you could say about the poem.
The simple, orderly process that you should apply to every AP English Literature essay is called the poetry essay Idea Machine.
The first thing to do is tackle the question.
The classic AP essay question is this one.
It makes our lives easier.
The Idea Machine will work here.
Here is some background information that may help you understand.
The speaker is a creature from Greek mythology.
The creatures were known to use their "honey-voiced" song to lure sailors to their island.
All the passengers would die when the sailor's ship was dashed on the dangerous rocks when he tried to catch a glimpse of the singers.
The poem is an allusion to Homer's The Odyssey.
The main character, Odysseus, doesn't want to die before he can return to his home.
He put wax in the oarsmen's ears so they wouldn't react to the song.
Odysseus was almost driven mad by the experience, but he and his ship passed the island safely.
If the AP exam writers used a poem that relied heavily on allusions, they would not be able to provide the background that we just did.
Unless you've read the original work of literature that the selected poem is referencing, the allusion will be mostly lost on you.
We are going to work with this poem as if you didn't know anything about Homer or The Odyssey.
You don't need to comprehend the allusion to understand the poem well enough to write a high scoring essay about it.
AP test writers will never choose a poem that relies on an allusion for its very sense if you recognize one, and if you don't, you should develop it in your essay as thoroughly as possible.
Background information will probably not be provided in the form of footnotes in the actual exam.
You will never be presented with a poem that relies on allusion to convey its meaning.
Everyone wants to learn the song, the song cannot be resisted once it is heard, the song causes men to leap out of their ships, into the sea and to their deaths, and the song is unknown because those who have never heard it before.
The speaker of the poem is willing to trade a secret for the reader's help in getting her out of her bird suit.
The speaker is unhappy with her life.
She insists that she doesn't get joy from singing, which seems to be her main occupation.
The death of those men who were mentioned in line 5 is caused by the singing of the Siren song with three voices.
The speaker stops thinking about her fate and directly addresses the reader in the last line of the poem.
The speaker claims that the song is boring despite its efficiency.
The reader is to know that the song has worked and that the other people who responded to it in the past are now dead.
The four paragraphs preceding this one are summaries of the poem.
You can use these paragraphs as an example of what not to write about in an AP essay.
If you practice this reading, it will become a habit for you.
A simple re-enactment of the passage is mechanical and commonplace.
The essay is going to score in the range of 4 or 5.
We can move the score much higher if we apply the rest of the Idea Machine to this reading.
For only two words, the title uses allusion and sibilant "S" sounds at the beginning of each word.
The title seems to call attention to the idea that we may be reading lyrics that are meant to be sung, for all or part of the poem.
The title might be used to clue us in to the fact that the poem describes the sensuality of a Siren's song.
We will have to see, as we explore the other questions, which interpretation of the title seems more in keeping with our other answers.
The answer to this question is crucial for many poems and especially important for this one.
The speaker is a female.
You could say that her audience is the reader, but you could also say that the author projects a role onto the sailor lost in the Siren's song.
It is a common strategy in poems.
A reader of a Shakespearean sonnet might be addressed as if he were Shakespeare's lover.
The reader is supposed to use his imagination.
The reader is not supposed to respond to the poem and agree to marry the speaker of a four-hundred-year-old sonnet, but rather to understand that he is being directly addressed as if he were part of a dramatic situation.
You are off to a good start if you can put the dramatic situation of this poem into your own words.
From reading literature, we know that first-person narrators can be unreliable.
Her song is "it".
The dramatic situation of the poem has caused our death because of the secret she has been promising us.
We are one more group of sailors.
She told us that we wouldn't be able to resist it, but we were a bit fooled.
Her life was not enjoyable.
She was in need of our help.
"Come closer," she said, and we did.
We became unique at the very moment that we became like every other sailor who has had his skull beached because he could not resist the song.
You can easily see that the earlier twenty-four lines were a performance when you read the last three lines.
The slippery nature of irony rarely stops at the first level.
There are places where point of view and tone intersect in this poem.
The poem doesn't find an easy solution to the questions, so let's move on to the feelings the reader gets from this poem.
The tool of finding oppositions that we discussed in the preceding chapter is coming into play in our discussion of the poem.
There are two possible meanings to the title.
There are two possible intentions by the speaker.
The feelings a reader pulls from this poem are likely to be in opposition as well.
Don't let the discoveries confuse you.
The AP exam will feature poems full of tensions.
You wouldn't have anything to write about if they didn't.
Readers of this poem are often persuaded.
The reader is likely to feel pleasure at being the object of someone else's need in part of the poem.
The speaker wants to let us know a secret.
The speaker wants to create a bond between those who know the secret and those who don't.
We understand that some secrets are terrible and devastating, yet we are able to hear them.
The speaker believes in us.
We may be able to do some good by listening to this secret.
We feel bad for the speaker who is trapped in a bird suit.
She is begging us to help her.
If the reader feels compelled to learn the Siren's secret to satisfy his or her own curiosity and to help the speaker out of a sense of generosity, then for the first 24 lines, the reader is responding in a similar manner.
They make a powerfully magnetizing force that weakens only as the final three lines expose the preceding 24, as if a curtain were pulled back to reveal the mundane inner workings of an impressive spectacle.
The final three lines are similar to the way that the sailors see the hideous appearance of the Sirens moments before their inevitable deaths.
During the last three lines, the reader feels tricked.
The speaker is bored with the certainty of her own success and is yawning.
The poem deals with ambivalence with seduction.
The speaker is trapped by his power.
She finds the song she sings to be dull and repetitive.
The speaker, almost against her will, plays the victim in order to be the victor, but her performance of the part of the victim seems to humiliate her, and the victory is hollow.
We wanted to show you how much we can uncover in a typical AP exam passage or poem.
The speaker is in some kind of opposition with herself, so all you have to do is read the poem on the test.
If you watched that and looked for the ways that Atwood got that opposition across, you could write a great essay.
We came to these points by thinking about the answers to the questions in italics and looking for oppositions.
We've had some practice at this kind of thing before, and we had the time we needed.
You should be prepared to open.
The speaker seems to have conflicting desires by the end of the poem.
It won't get any prizes.
It is on its way to a high score for the AP exam.
Your reader will be blown away by anything beyond this.
We'll finish the essay after we take it apart.
The beginning paragraph talks about meaning.
If the rest of your essay is good, you'll score high, but the readers like to see you try something a little more daring.
We connected the title to the feeling of the poem and it seemed to work.
The idea that human desire can lead us into dangerous situations was connected to the concrete image of the men forced to leap over each other in large groups.
We made a link back to the speaker's dilemma.
The reader would be impressed that you arrived quickly at the main point of the passage.
We barely started this process and ran out of steam before we could fulfill our goal of getting at the meaning of the poem and explaining how Atwood gets it across.
We can begin our second paragraph with "Atwood's poem" without fear of seeming dull or mechanical because our first paragraph began with such originality.
We'll start describing what the poem does and how it does it.
There is a double meaning to this song.
If you can show that a writer has created a double meaning, the reader will think you are crazy.
We have to say what both meanings are.
We chose to stick with the speaker's dilemma, which is one of the main differences of this poem, because we might have analyzed any number of double meanings.
The first part of the poem is a performance that is persuasive and the second part is a performance that is predictable.
We are talking about two things at the same time, and on the road to a higher score.
The first part of the poem is a persuasive performance, and the second part shows it to be artificial and predictable.
By her nature, the speaker has to lure people to their deaths.
She admits this role to her reader, complains about it, asks for the reader's help in releasing her from that role, and then causes the death of the reader to be revealed in the final lines.
Let's do an essay check.
We haven't addressed our specific intention of writing about the use of irony in the poem, and we haven't said enough about how Atwood shaped the poem.
We need to make a statement about how she shapes her imagery.
The formula that will launch us into the rest of the essay is the most mechanical part of our opening.
Through the use of an ironic, untrustworthy, first-person speaker and through the careful use of tonal contrast, Atwood gives the reader a sense of ambivalence the human beings often have when they are involved in presenting persuasive, persuasive speech and actions.