Worn Out

Thy strong arms are around me, love
My head is on thy breast;
Low words of comfort come from thee
Yet my soul has no rest.

For I am but a startled thing
Nor can I ever be
Aught save a bird whose broken wing
Must fly away from thee.

I cannot give to thee the love
I gave so long ago,
The love that turned and struck me down
Amid the blinding snow.

I can but give a failing heart
And weary eyes of pain,
A faded mouth that cannot smile
And may not laugh again.

Yet keep thine arms around me, love,
Until I fall to sleep;
Then leave me, saying no goodbye
Lest I might wake, and weep.


  1. The tension between the speaker’s command to “leave me” and “weeping” over her lover leaving suggests that this is not actually what the speaker wants; it is a form of martyrdom. She encourages her lover to leave not because she wants him out of her life; rather, she believes she is unable to love him the way he deserves. The poem then serves as a type of apology in which the speaker encourages her lover to walk away and inadvertently (or intentionally) reveals her selfless love for him in the process.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. “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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The violence of the preceding paragraph may make readers suspect that the speaker is trying to escape from a negative or unhealthy relationship. However, in this stanza, the speaker identifies herself as the negative element in the relationship. Her inability to “give to thee love” is revealed to be the reason the speaker “must fly” away from her lover.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. 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.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. “Aught” means “anything” in this context while “save” means “but.” In these two lines, the speaker claims that she cannot be anything but a bird with a broken wing. Again, the speaker reduces herself to her anxieties and pain rather than asserting an identity.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The speaker refers to herself as a “thing,” or an object that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to. In calling herself a “startled thing,” she dehumanizes herself. She is no longer a person but reduced to an object without a name. In adding the adjective “startled” to this identity, the speaker suggests that she is weak and fearful as well. In this stanza, she reduces herself to only her fear.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. “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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. 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.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff