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Historical Context in Worn Out

Elizabeth Siddal was first approached by a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who saw her through a shop window and asked her to model for some portraits. She was quickly deemed the Brotherhood’s idea of a “true woman” and was asked to return many times to model. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 by Dante Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. The Brotherhood rejected modern art movements and focused on the artistic movement of the late medieval and early modern times. Siddal spent a lot of time with the Brotherhood and eventually married Rossetti. Their work was likely an influence on her own as the language and themes of many of her poems are reminiscent of medieval works.

Historical Context Examples in Worn Out:

Worn Out

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"may not laugh again...."   (Worn Out )

This stanza could also draw on Siddal’s own lived experience. Siddal suffered from chronic illness and depression. For her own wedding to Rossetti, she had to be carried to a church that was a five-minute walk from their house because she was so weak. Some scholars have read this poem as an apology for her illness, in which the poet claims her sickness prevents her from fully loving her audience and urges him to leave her to pursue a better life.

"failing heart..."   (Worn Out )

“Failing heart,” “weary eyes,” and “faded mouth” all use connotations of sickness to convey the speaker’s pain. Read with the medieval allusions throughout the rest of the poem, this metaphorical sickness language could allude to “heart-sickness,” or grief over the loss of one’s love that was considered to cause actual, physical ailments in the medieval and early modern periods. If the speaker is alluding to this illness, then she claims here that her heartbreak over another lover prevents her from giving her heart to her audience.

"thy..."   (Worn Out )

This archaic language could also be a sign of Siddal’s connection to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Brotherhood—created by her husband Dante Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais—was a small, artistic movement that rejected modern-painting standards in favor of the intense color and detail of late medieval and early modern art. The painters used Siddal as a model for their recreations of Ophelia, Persephone, and other major characters from mythology and literature. When Siddal began writing poetry in 1851, she composed with similar themes and imagery, such as archaic language.

"Thy..."   (Worn Out )

Throughout this poem, Siddal uses archaic language. By the time she was writing in the 1850s, “thy” would have been an archaic word used to signify intimate familiarity with the addressee. Siddal’s use of this type of language underscores the medieval romance undertones within this poem.

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