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Site of the Castle of Ulysses - Song of the Sirens

Letitia Elizabeth Landon 1802 (Chelsea) – 1838 (Cape Coast)



Hither, famed Ulysses, steer,
Pass not, pride of Greece, along;
To our haven come and hear,
Come and hear the Sirens' song.

Never did a sable bark
Coasting by our island stray—
That it did not stop to mark,
With raptured ear our honied lay.

Here the seamen, loath to part,
Ever found a welcome kind;
We with pleasure cheered his heart,
We with wisdom filled his mind.

Well we know each gallant deed
Done in Ilion's spreading land,—
When, as gods of heaven decreed,
Greece and Troy fought hand to hand.

Whatsoe'er beside is done
In earth’s confines know we well;
These to thee, Laertes’ son,
Shall our witching numbers tell.

Hither, famed Ulysses, steer,
Pass not, pride of Greece, along;
To our haven come and hear,
Come and hear the Sirens’ song.


The original verses, eight in number, from which the above song is rather imitated than translated, are perfect models of harmony. They are generally supposed to give Homer's own idea of what an epic poem should be—bland and conciliatory in its opening, but at the same time expressing a thorough consciousness that the poet had the power of doing that which would make all ears listen. Ulysses wandering by, in his "winged pines," as Browne phrases it, is accosted in words of gentle accent, but the Sirens take care to tell him that, much praised and deservedly honoured as he is, he must listen to their song, for never yet had man heard them sing, without being subdued. The poet proceeds to promise, that sweetness of melody is to mark the flowing numbers of his lay, and that in the honied song are to be conveyed lessons of wisdom. The sailor, they say, dwells here delighted and filled with ampler knowledge. Such are the general promises, but as, after all, we must come to the particular incidents of human life—the soaring poem is to relate whatever is most spirit-stirring, most heart-moving, most thought-awakening in the doings of men. We must not hear of mere abstractions—we must have names and deeds interesting in every bosom; and we must be shown, too, that these deeds are regulated by powers above human control. The Sirens, therefore, announce that they shall sing of the most renowned event of their time, those wars and battles which took place before the "wind swept towers of Ilion,"— events to which he to whom they were sung had so mainly contributed, and which were done by the impulse of the gods. Such is the lay, continues the poet, I am about to pour into your ear; and that it may be done with every certainty of affecting all whose intellect or whose feeling can be approached in tone not to be resisted, I, the minstrel, (we, say the Sirens, but it is Homer, the one Homer, who speaks,) come to my task prepared with long-stored knowledge of all that can concern mankind. "We know all that is done upon the fertile bosom of earth."

Such is the ancient interpretation of the Song of the Sirens. It may, perhaps, be fanciful,—but those who consider the song with care will find that there is much in the comment, and will, at all events, agree that the poet who wrote the verses has fulfilled the conditions.
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Submitted by Madeleine Quinn on February 29, 2020

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Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was an English poet. Born 14th August 1802 at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, she lived through the most productive period of her life nearby, at No.22. A precocious child with a natural gift for poetry, she was driven by the financial needs of her family to become a professional writer and thus a target for malicious gossip (although her three children by William Jerdan were successfully hidden from the public). In 1838, she married George Maclean, governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, whence she travelled, only to die a few months later (15th October) of a fatal heart condition. Behind her post-Romantic style of sentimentality lie preoccupations with art, decay and loss that give her poetry its characteristic intensity and in this vein she attempted to reinterpret some of the great male texts from a woman’s perspective. Her originality rapidly led to her being one of the most read authors of her day and her influence, commencing with Tennyson in England and Poe in America, was long-lasting. However, Victorian attitudes led to her poetry being misrepresented and she became excluded from the canon of English literature, where she belongs. more…

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