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Ulysses and the Siren
A Poem by Samuel Daniel (1562?-1619)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
What Was a Siren?
Summary
Text With Notes
End Rhyme
Internal Rhyme
Verse Format
Themes
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Biography of Daniel
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings.. 2011
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Type of Work and Date of Publication

......."Ulysses and the Siren" is a poem that presents a dialogue between the title characters. One may categorize the work as a dramatic poem in that it resembles a scene in a stage drama. G. Eld printed the poem in London in 1605 for publisher Simon Waterson as part of Certaine Small Poems Lately Printed: With the Tragedie of Philotas.

Background on Ulysses (Odysseus) and the Sirens

.......Ulysses was the name used by the ancient Romans, as well as by many writers of later times, to refer to the Greek hero Odysseus. Readers of The Illiad and The Odyssey will remember that it was Odysseus who designed the gigantic wooden horse that brought about the fall of Troy and the end of the Trojan War. While sailing home to Greece as a conquering hero, Odysseus and his men encountered many perils at sea, including the sirens. 
.......The sirens lived on an island in the Mediterranean region. These sea nymphs sang a song so enchanting that it lured sailors on passing ships to the shore. There, the sailors sat and listened until they starved to death. 
.......The most famous of the stories about the sirens is in Book XII of Homer's Odyssey, which centers on the adventures of Odysseus on his voyage home to Ithaca, Greece, from the Trojan War. Forewarned of the danger the sirens posed, Odysseus ordered his men to plug their ears with wax. But the ever-curious Odysseus wished to hear the sirens' song. So, rather than plug his ears, he had his men tie him to a mast as his ship approached the island of the sirens. The song was beautiful, and it offered new knowledge about the world. The sirens entreated Odysseus to come to their island. 

Oh cease thy course, and listen to our lay!
Blest is the man ordain'd our voice to hear,
The song instructs the soul, and charms the ear.
Approach! thy soul shall into raptures rise!
Approach! and learn new wisdom from the wise! 
(Book XII, Odyssey; Alexander Pope, translator)
.......When Odysseus struggled to free himself, his men further secured him to the mast. Later, after the island was far behind them, the men released Odysseus and unplugged their ears. 
.......In another myth, the sirens attempted to lure the crew of the Argo—the ship carrying Jason and the Golden Fleece. But one crewman, the highly skilled musician Orpheus, played his lyre so beautifully that the others aboard listened to his music rather than the sirens' song. Consequently, the ship sailed on without incident. 
.......In the tales about the sirens, storytellers sometimes described them as part woman and part bird. However, writers interpreting the tales frequently depicted the sirens as mermaids or young women. Samuel Daniel presents them as seductive sea nymphs.
....... According to one myth, the sirens killed themselves because of their failure to attract Odysseus, as well as Orpheus, Jason, and the crew of the Argo

Summary

....... A siren tries to persuade Ulysses to come to her island for a respite from the dangers of the sea. Ulysses declines, saying he cannot win fame and honor in leisure. He must keep to his course. The siren scorns honor, saying it was conceived only as a barrier to achieving the real prize: peace and contentment.
....... Ulysses counters that toil—not idleness—brings joy. If he seeks joy through toil, the siren argues, why does he not accept joy without the toil? There are many ways to amuse himself on her island. Ulysses says he takes as much pleasure in toil and danger as she does in ease. His view, she says, results from the way he was reared in society. Waging war, one of his pursuits, causes “more hurt than good” (line 56), she says. It is better to go to war, Ulysses says, than to seek a “wicked peace” (line 63).
....... Unable to lure Ulysses to her, the siren says she will come to him and then either undo him or be undone.

Text of the Poem

SIREN

Come, worthy Greek! Ulysses, come, 
Possess those shores with me! 
The winds and seas are troublesome, 
And here we may be free! 
Here we may sit and view their toil 
That travail in the deep, 
And joy the day in mirth the while, 
And spend the night in sleep..........................8

ULYSSES

Fair nymph! if fame or honor were 
To be attained with ease, 
Then would I come and rest with thee, 
And leave such toils as these. 
But here it dwells, and here must I 
With danger seek it forth: 
To spend the time luxuriously 
Becomes not men of worth.............................16

SIREN

Ulysses, O be not deceiv'd 
With that unreal name, 
This honour is a thing conceiv'd, 
And rests on others' fame. 
Begotten only to molest 
Our peace, and to beguile 
The best thing of our life—our rest, 
And give us up to toil......................................24

ULYSSES

Delicious Nymph, suppose there were 
No honour, nor report,1
Yet manliness would scorn to wear
The time in idle sport; 
For toil doth give a better touch 
To make us feel our joy,
And ease finds tediousness as much 
As labour finds annoy.....................................32

SIREN

Then pleasure, likewise, seems the shore 
Whereto tends all your toil, 
Which you forego to make it more, 
And perish oft the while. 
Who may disport them diversely, 
Find never tedious day, 
And ease may have variety, 
As well as action may.....................................40

ULYSSES

But natures of the noblest frame 
These toils and dangers please; 
And they take comfort in the same 
As much as you in ease; 
And with the thought of actions past 
Are recreated still: 
When Pleasure leaves a touch at last, 
To show that it was ill......................................48

SIREN

That doth Opinion only cause, 
That's out of Custom bred, 
Which makes us many other laws 
Than ever Nature did. 
No widows wail for our delights, 
Our sports are without blood; 
The world we see by warlike wights2
Receives more hurt than good...........................56

ULYSSES

But yet the state of things require 
These motions of unrest; 
And these great Spirits of high desire 
Seem born to turn them best: 
To purge the mischiefs that increase, 
And all good order mar, 
For oft we see a wicked peace 
To be well chang'd for war.................................64

SIREN

Well, well, Ulysses, then I see 
I shall not have thee here: 
And therefore I will come to thee, 
And take my fortune there. 
I must be won, that cannot win, 
Yet lost were I not won; 
For beauty hath created been 
T' undo, or be undone.......................................72

Notes

1...report: fame.
2...wights: persons.
 
 

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End Rhyme

.......The rhyme scheme of the poem is ababcdcd, as the first stanza demonstrates. 

Come, worthy Greek! Ulysses, come
Possess those shores with me
The winds and seas are troublesome
And here we may be free
Here we may sit and view their toil
That travail in the deep
And joy the day in mirth the while
And spend the night in sleep.


Internal Rhyme

.......The poem also contains internal rhyme, as in the following lines.

And here we may be free! (line 4)
And leave such toils as these (line 12)
The best thing of our life—our rest (line 23)
And these great Spirits of high desire
T' undo, or be undone
Verse Format

The verse format alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, as the first four lines demonstrate.

........1......................2...............3...............4
Come, WOR..|..thy GREEK!..|..U LYS..|..ses, COME

.......1.....................2.....................3
Pos SESS..|..those SHORES..|..with ME

.........1..................2...................3.................4
The WINDS..|..and SEAS..|..are TROUB..|..le SOME

.......1.................2...............3
And HERE..|..we MAY..|..be FREE!


Themes

Quest for Fame and Honor

.......In Daniel's poem, Ulysses' desire for fame and honor—twin prizes of great adventurers—is so strong that he is able to withstand the lure of the siren's song. 

Temptation

.......Temptation is ever present in life to entice people away from their tasks and goals. For example, temptation may appear in the form of a drug that, like the siren, promises pleasure and happiness but actually leads only to ruin.

Figures of Speech

Alliteration

The winds and seas are troublesome (line 3)

Whereto tends all your toil (line 34)

The world we see by warlike wights (line 55)

Metaphor
Then pleasure, likewise, seems the shore 
Whereto tends all your toil (lines 33-34)
Comparison of pleasure to a shore

That doth Opinion only cause, 
That's out of Custom bred, 
Which makes us many other laws 
Than ever Nature did. (lines 49-52)
Comparison of Custom to a lawmaker

Paradox
Then pleasure, likewise, seems the shore 
Whereto tends all your toil, 
Which you forego to make it more (lines 33-35)
The siren says Ulysses foregoes pleasure to increase pleasure
Personification
manliness would scorn to wear (line 27)
Manliness, a quality, becomes a person who scorns

Study Questions and Essay Topics

1...Write an essay that explains who Ulysses (Greek: Odysseus) was. Be sure to include references to The Iliad and The Odyssey.
2...Give several examples of modern sirens, such as illegal drugs, that lure people to ruination. 
3...Write a poem or an essay about your own encounter with sirens (temptation).
4...List additional examples of alliteration besides those mentioned above.
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