Summary and Analysis
Elizabeth Siddal was a pre-Raphaelite poet and artist whose poems went largely unpublished during her lifetime. Chronic illness, addiction, and her tumultuous relationship with poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti marred her short-lived career. She most famously modeled as Ophelia in the eponymous painting by John Everett Millais.
Siddal’s “Worn Out” is a five-stanza lyric that features metaphors, romantic imagery, and a balladic verse structure. It explores the theme of lost love through the perspective of a weary speaker who is unable to reconcile her desire for solitude with her failing relationship.
- The first stanza opens as the speaker lies against her lover’s chest and reflects upon how worn down she feels by their relationship. Her lover tries to offer her comfort, but his empty words only exacerbate her restlessness and despondency.
- In the second stanza, the speaker reveals the paradox of her situation, suggesting that she is a bird with a broken wing but still must find a way to “fly away from thee.” She is nameless in this stanza, dehumanizing herself to nothing more than a “startled thing,” as if she were trapped by her fears and her inability to assert herself.
- The third stanza reinforces the speaker’s negative complex towards giving and receiving love. She refers to their love as a violent force that began “long ago.” The speaker says that she was struck down by feelings for him “amid the blinding snow.” Just as the seasons change, so have her feelings. This fall amid “blinding snow” may also refer to a past betrayal.
- In the fourth stanza, the speaker describes her physical ailments as a result of her impending heartbreak. Each description reveals how physically and emotionally weary the speaker has become, creating a sense of hopelessness and exhaustion.
- In the fifth stanza, the speaker is still in her lover’s arms, falling asleep. She hopes he will leave without waking her, despite knowing that his departure will only distress her further.
The Speaker’s Exhaustion
“Worn Out” conveys a sense of exhaustion from the opening verse, where the lover’s vitality and strength contrast the speaker’s weariness and physical attachment: “Thy strong arms are around me, love / My head is on thy breast.”
The speaker is “worn down,” as suggested by the title. This weariness permeates the poem on both a physical and metaphorical level: she lays in his arms, desiring comfort in his embrace, yet she cannot find peace because her “soul has no rest.”
She compares herself to a “broken” bird who must “fly away from thee,” introducing the paradox of her situation: She wants to flee this heartbreak but does not feel she has the agency to do so. Given her wearying dilemma, the speaker turns to sleep as a means of survival. Sleep offers her a way of avoiding how hopeless she feels, knowing the pain and necessity of love and its absolution. Though she begins the poem in her lover’s arms, she ends with the hope for sleep, a solitary act.
The Speaker’s Sense of Self
The heart of this poem is in its contradictions of self, whereby the speaker expresses her desire to leave but reveals her emotional detachment, and perhaps, the true reason why this relationship is falling apart: “I cannot give to thee the love / I gave so long ago.”
She calls herself a “startled thing,” likening herself to a weak or fearful object, one that is “struck down” and “blinded” by the brutal and powerful phenomenon of love. The blindness of love connotes medieval imagery of Cupid and his unpredictable arrow, suggesting how love has taken its physical toll on her.
She uses kinesthetic imagery to depict the physical manifestations of her pain and loss of self: “failing heart,” “weary eyes of pain,” and “a faded mouth that cannot smile.”
The Speaker as a Martyr
“Then leave me, saying no goodbye,” the speaker entreats her lover, revealing her futile outlook on their disintegrating relationship. Though she implies that their love began “long ago,” she would rather he leave without her knowing, without so much of a goodbye. If she is conscious when he goes, she’ll “weep,” emphasizing that the speaker does not actually want him to leave.
The slow unraveling of her true emotional state casts her initial longing for insensibility into a different light. She wants him to leave, but perhaps not because she no longer loves him. Instead, she may believe she is saving him from herself.
She references her “failing heart” and physical deterioration, whether from illness or this metaphorical heartbreak, blaming herself for the demise of their relationship. “Then leave me, saying no goodbye,” she asks of him, showing him the only gesture of affection she can manage.
She does not have the capacity to leave, but gives him the ability to do so. However, her martyrdom is no less painful or easy for her, as implied by her final request that he “keep thine arms around [her]” until she falls asleep.
Her choice of diction elucidates her true feelings: She calls him “love” twice—in the first and last stanzas—when asking him to hold her, as if she needs his physical touch to keep from falling apart. Her weariness comes full circle, as the speaker both begins and ends the poem with her unfulfilled desire to leave.