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Literary Devices in Worn Out

Medieval Language and Futile Tone: “Worn Out” is full of language and images that are characteristic of medieval literature. There is language that invokes the idea that a heartbreak is causing the speaker actual bodily harm, a metaphor used in a lot of medieval literature. There is language that suggests that the speaker is feeble and innocent and needs the strong arms of a man to save her, all of which is characteristic of the medieval “damsel in distress” narrative.

The speaker creates a conundrum by comparing herself to a bird with broken wings that wants to fly away but can’t. This adds to the tone of futility in the poem as the speaker reveals her immobility in the face of this dilemma. She is unable to create any outcome that would be beneficial to either herself or her lover in her current state.

Literary Devices Examples in Worn Out:

Worn Out

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"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.

"struck me down..."   (Worn Out )

This line can be interpreted as having two meanings. She either invokes medieval imagery of love at first sight, in which a person struck by Cupid’s arrow becomes irrevocably, obsessively in love with a love object. She could also be describing a betrayal that “struck her” when she felt safely in love. In either reading, Love is characterized as violent and dangerous.

"Must fly away from thee...."   (Worn Out )

The speaker creates a paradox in this stanza. She compares herself to a bird with broken wings that “must fly.” Because birds with broken wings cannot fly, the speaker expresses the conundrum of her situation. She must get away from her audience, “thee,” but she does not have the physical, or metaphorically mental, capacity to do so. This paradox makes her tone hopeless and undermines the validity of this desire to “fly away.”

"strong arms..."   (Worn Out )

“Strong arms” is a characteristic that invokes masculine gender norms. Because of Siddal’s interest in medieval literary themes, descriptions such as this one suggest that the speaker sees her audience through the lens of the medieval romance: he is a strong knight who is there to save her, the endangered damsel.

"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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