Woe is Me

Meanings of “Woe is Me”

The phrase “woe is me” is used to talk about a grieving, mourning, or extremely sad person. It also refers to a person whose life is drowned in a series of challenges and sees no hope.

Origin of “Woe is Me”

The phrase “woe is me” is stated to have originated from The Bible Translation by Wycliff which was published in 1382. In the Bible it goes thus; “If I be wicked, woe unto me; and if I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head. I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction.”

Later, it was cited in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, published in 1602. Since then, it has been used in almost the same sense but in different words.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

“Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!—
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,
Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
Th’ observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatched form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. Oh, woe is me,
T’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see!”

Here Hamlet intends to kill his uncle and his uncle, Claudius also devises a plan to kill him. Unfortunately, the play ends with a series of murders. Ophelia, in the above-stated lines, talks about the obvious change she sees in Hamlet, saying that his noble mind is destroyed. She mourns that his chivalry has now transformed into apparent madness. She feels sorry for herself as she has never expected to see Hamlet in this situation. The phrase used in the last line shows its meanings clarified through this sad speech.

Example #2

Woe Is Me by William Waterway

“My life such a tragedy
Woe, woe, woe is me
such is my sad, sad history
Born into such a poor family
we often lacked food in our pantry
So many children – all so noisy
a farm in the sticks of New Joysoy
Woe, woe, woe, is me
such is my woe-filled story
Raised on land with tree upon tree
apple, pear, peach, and choke cherry
and animals such as sheep, cows,
dogs, chickens, and my horse, Buddy
Woe, woe, woe, is me
labors day and night with no glory
Woe, woe, woe, is me.”

The above poem touches on the literal meanings of the phrase. The poet reflects the sad and never-ending woes of his life. He was born in a poor family that lacked even the basic necessities of life, which was filled with untiring struggle and intense labor. He used to curse the miserable plight of his life when he saw his friends enjoying the true colors of life. On the contrary, the speaker could only dream about a happy life. The repetition of the word “woe” and its successive occurrence in the poem creates a rhythm that is parallel to a refrain used in a lyric.

Example #3

Woe Is Me by Evelyn Smith

“Leave me alone, I don’t want to speak to anyone.
I just want to watch myself crash and burn.
I want to be self destructive, and I want it all to hurt.

Drinking myself into a state where I don’t have to think about anything, anymore.
No one needs to know, I don’t gloat, I’m not proud.
Laying awake until 4am, thinking of nothing but suicide.”

The above lines from the poem speak about the miseries and depressive state of mind.  The speaker does not desire to have someone in her life. She does not want to come out of this self-destructive state and want to think about anything. The problems, agony, and pain of her life, have reached the extent that she wishes to commit suicide. Although the phrase is not used in the poem directly, yet the title of the poem hints at the direct meaning and use of the phrase.

Example #4

O Woe Is Me by The Datsuns

“I may sound ungrateful
But tonight you know I am
How come some great big things
You can let slip through your hands
Oh, oh, oh, W-O-E is me
I’m a simple boy, I just need a simple girl
To tell me how it really is in this absurd world
Oh, oh, oh, W-O-E is me
Oh, whoa, oh, woe is me
Whoa, oh, woe is me
Whoa, oh, woe is me
Whoa, oh, woe is me.”

The singer just wants a simple girl in this absurd world to learn the ground realities of life; he wants to learn the art of living with oneself. The phrase has been used repeatedly in the last lines, showing the same meanings as interpreted about sad life.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “My life is beset by all modes of misfortunes since the pandemic started, oh woe is me!”

Example #2: “Woe is me! I have to work for extra hours to pay my debts.”

Example #3: “Like many other farmers my crop is also destroyed by heavy rain. This year, I won’t be able to bring fortune to my family, O woe is me.”

Example #4: “It’s raining heavily and I am out of my pocket, O woe is me.”

Example #5: “I skipped the last semester exams and this year I lost the eligibility of advance placement classes. Woe is me, I should have not done that!”