‘Goblin Market’ is one of Christina Rossetti’s most famous and well-studied poems. The interpretations of this poem are varied, and because of that, it is an intriguing piece.
The poem treads the line between poetry and prose and could almost be considered a piece of fiction if not for the rhyming pattern and use of stanzas. The rhyming pattern is prevalent throughout. Although it is used inconsistently, it gives the poem an enchanting, almost nursery rhyme-like quality.
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‘Goblin Market’ by Christina Rossetti describes the adventures of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, and their encounter with goblin merchants.
In the first lines of ‘Goblin Market,’ the poet describes the calls and cries of the goblin men as they try to attract customers to buy their fruits. These fruits are inherently magical, something that Lizzie, the wiser sister, knows they should stay away from. But, Laura ignores this warning and pays for one fruit with a lock of her hair. Once she eats it, Laura becomes immediately addicted to the taste.
She demands more but the goblin refuses to give it to her. Laura wastes away pining after the fruit. Lizzie shows far more strength than Laura and finds a way to return her to her youth and beauty. Lizzie’s sacrificial nature is often compared to Christ in these last lines. The poem concludes with the poet informing the readers that the two sisters each got married and had children. They learned their lesson from the Goblin Market.
The primary themes at work in ‘Goblin Market’ are sex, temptation/sin, and women/femininity. The latter also connects to sisterhood and companionship. Due to the length and complexity of this piece, any one of these themes, and more, could be said to be the most important in this poem. Sex as a theme is almost inescapable though. Although Rossetti claimed the poem was meant for children, there is a great deal of erotic imagery scattered throughout the lines.
The temptation of the fruit, the kiss, and the men tempting the women, all seem to relate to sexuality and perhaps the loss of virginity. The bond the two sisters have is also quite important. They try to protect one another, but in the end, Laura falls victim to temptation, and Lizzie has to make a sacrifice to save her. There is no clear allegorical reading of this poem, but instead several possible interpretations. This is what’s solidified it as Rossetti’s masterpiece, one that’s read in schools worldwide.
Structure and Form
‘Goblin Market’ is a twenty-nine-line poem that is separated into stanzas of different lengths. The lines follow a loose rhyme scheme that’s used for sections of the poem. But, it is far from consistent. In moments, the poem has a nursery rhyme-like feel but it can be quite sinister in places. Plus, given the symbolism in the poem, one could argue that it is a metaphor for drug addiction, or losing one’s virginity, neither of which are nursery rhyme subject matter.
Rossetti makes use of several literary devices in ‘Goblin Market.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, imagery, anaphora, and enjambment. The first of these, alliteration, is a type of repetition that’s used when the poet repeats a consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “glen” and “goblin” at the beginning of stanza five and “purloin” and “purse” in lines three and four of stanza six.
Anaphora is another kind of repetition, one that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same word or words at the beginning of lines. For instance, “Like,” which starts five of the seven lines of stanza four. There is also an example in stanza five with the word “One.” It starts six lines in this stanza. This kind of repetition helps create the feeling of accumulation as if the poet is building up to something or is bringing together lines for a common purpose.
Imagery is one of the most important literary devices used in ‘Goblin Market,’ or in any poem. Without it, readers would leave the piece unaffected. Some of the best lines are “The whisk-tail’d merchant bade her taste / In tones as smooth as honey, / The cat-faced purr’d” from stanza five and these from stanza eight: Like two blossoms on one stem, / Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow, / Like two wands of ivory / Tipp’d with gold for awful kings.”
Enjambment is an important formal device that’s used when the poet cuts off a line before the natural conclusion of a sentence or phrase. For example the transition between ones two and three of stanza eight and lines six and seven of stanza ten.
Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
Straight away in this first section of ‘Goblin Market,‘ we see one of its prevalent themes. The fact that it states that maids hear the goblins cry. Why is it only maids that hear this? For some reason, the female gender seems to be the only one represented here. Could the goblins themselves then represent masculinity? This is just the first of many questions that have never actually been answered about this poem and help to create the sense of intrigue around the piece that has seen it become so enduring.
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Many who have studied ‘Goblin Market’ have commented on the comparisons between what happens and the story of “the original sin” in the bible. In other words, the story of Adam and Eve eating the apple in the Garden of Eden. I think that Rossetti probably utilized this device on purpose. Perhaps that is why the apple is the first fruit on the list? In order to instantly put that idea into the reader’s consciousness. Or maybe it is just because it is one of the most common fruits! That is the beauty of this poem. It keeps you guessing.
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
The list of fruits is very long and contains some fascinating adjectives. This really gives the impression that the Goblins are doing their best sales spiel. Note how peaches are compared amusingly to cheeks. In a way, the mulberries could be considered to be at least partially personified by referring to the top of them as a head. What is also noteworthy here is that the pineapple is divided by a hyphen giving the impression that it is a different fruit.
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Again the first two lines of this section give the impression of an expert salesman. What is interesting though is that fruits are seasonal and in reality, these fruits should not be all ripened at the same time. Especially in the nineteenth century when farming technology lacked the advances that we see today. We also see the second mention of time. In the opening line mornings and evenings were mentioned that is repeated here. I think the suggestion is that time is running out to buy their fruit. As the poem progresses we see an increasing hint at the theme of temptation and the initial stages of that are certainly prevalent here as the goblins talk up their wares. The phrase “come buy, come buy” acts as a refrain throughout this section and again you could link this to a form of temptation.
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Most of the fruits named in this section are unusual or exotic in nature. Once again I think this is very deliberate and helps to add to the tempting nature of them. These are not fruits that would have been readily available in England during that period. It’s not like Christina Rossetti could just pop down to her local supermarket! These fruits are meant to represent going against the norm, the mundane. It wouldn’t be much of a temptation if the Goblins were walking around yelling. “Come and have an apple they are dead good!”
Taste them and try:
Once again this line is all about temptation.
Currants and gooseberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”
The last two lines here are particularly interesting as they point toward the questionable legitimacy of the fruit. The fact that they are referred to as being sound to the eye may raise an alarm. Does this mean that they look okay but are in fact questionable? Sure they may taste sweet but is there a hint that these delights come with a catch? You will have to wait and see! The Goblins drone on with their monotonous “Come buy, come buy”.
Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Once again the evening is mentioned but this time it is not mentioned alongside the morning. Is there significance to this? We also see the scene starting to be set in the second line by mentioning that there are rushes nearby.
Laura bow’d her head to hear,
Lizzie veil’d her blushes:
In these two lines, we are introduced to the poem’s two main characters and see displayed their very different personalities. Laura appears slightly enamored by the charms of the Goblins here as she wants to hear what they have to say, Lizzie appears the more prudent of the two and seems somewhat ashamed of Laura’s actions as she tries to hide her embarrassment or so it would seem.
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger tips.
The tone of ‘Goblin Market’ changes at this point. Until here we are yet to see any real hints that there is anything sinister afoot. But in this part of the poem, the description of the girl’s actions is intriguing, to say the least. For some reason, they crouch down, presumably amongst the nearby rushes. The suggestion here then would seem to be that they are in fact hiding. But why? It would appear also that they embraced these actions help to create a real sense of fear and suspense. Does the phrase “cautioning lips” combined with “finger tips” suggest that one of the girls is trying to silence the other one? Judging by the upcoming “dialogue” that would not be surprising.
“Lie close,” Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
The intonation here is that Laura wants Lizzie to pull close to her, perhaps to better hide the pair of them. What is interesting here is that initially, it seemed like Lizzie was more cautious but perhaps once Laura realized what it was she was hearing her demeanor changed.
“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Here we see another hint that Laura is indeed a very cautious young lady. Although as the poem progresses it seems more like this dialogue actually belongs to Lizzie. Her pleas help add to the drama. This is a startling juxtaposition to segue from the list of delicious fruit to two scared girls cowering is striking and creates a real tension.
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
This seems like a bit of scaremongering. However, it would appear that the Goblins must have a reputation for being at least a little “shady” in order for this level of suspicion. Perhaps there had been reports before of people falling foul of the Goblin fruit sellers?
“Come buy,” call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
The stanza ends with the Goblins once again repeating their catchphrase which at this point has taken on an almost sinister tone.
“Oh,” cried Lizzie, “Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men.”
I think in these first two lines the true dynamic between the girls is really revealed. I think they are both wary of the Goblins but it appears that it is in fact Laura who has the sense of curiosity whereas Lizzie is in fact the more sensible of the two.
Lizzie cover’d up her eyes,
Cover’d close lest they should look;
It is strange why it is so important that the girls don’t even look at the Goblins. The reason for this is not clear. If the Goblins are in fact a metaphor for men then perhaps looking itself is considered to be part of the sin. Times have changed dramatically in the last couple of hundred years!
Laura rear’d her glossy head,
And whisper’d like the restless brook:
“Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Laura doesn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation and lets her curiosity get the better of her. She cannot resist temptation and doesn’t heed Lizzie’s warnings. She looks at the Goblins going about their business. I think the description of Laura’s speech is particularly revealing here. It is described as being “like the restless brook.” Is the insinuation here that they are near a brook? If so it is a clever comparison and being nearby a water source would make sense as Rushes are often associated with Wetlands. This description then gives an impression both of the girls surrounding and of one of the girl’s mannerisms.
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds weight.
The rhyming in this section is beautiful. It really does create a lovely flow to this section of the poem as the narrator describes what Laura is seeing as she ignores that advice of Lizzie. Here it is revealed that the goblins are small. If you have any sort of familiarity with the Goblin, it is a mythical gnome-like creature with grotesque facial features. They play a similar role in mythology to that of a leprechaun and are notorious mischief-makers. What is interesting is that different goblins clearly have different ways of transporting their wares. I wonder why this is.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
Here once again we see temptation start to rear its head. Laura begins to think about the fruit and theorize how good it must be
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes.”
And this continues with Laura’s mind wondering this time rather than imagining the fruit itself she is contemplating the exotic locations from which it originated. It would appear that she is almost under thrall of sorts with the Goblin’s hypnotic repetition eating into her subconscious.
“No,” said Lizzie, “No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”
Luckily for Laura at this point, she has Lizzie on hand to try and guide her along the path of goodness. She is pretty insistent hear. She repeats the word “no” four times before justifying what she is saying. For some reason, Lizzie is able to see beyond the tricks that the goblins are using to seduce Laura (and I use the word contentiously!)
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Realizing that hiding isn’t working, or at least that is how it seems, Lizzie decides to make a run for it. Note how she does so with her eyes shut. Is the visage of the Goblins really so terrifying. It would appear that she believes so.
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
Laura is clearly the person who is less scared of the Goblins. It seems odd because she hid with Lizzie so is obviously aware of the fact that the Goblins are a force to be feared, but still she lingers it is as if she cannot resist them. Like she is under some sort of spell. Those that theorize that the poem is about drugs could point to this as being a euphemism for understanding the dangerous nature of drugs but being powerless to resist them because of an addiction.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisk’d a tail,
One tramp’d at a rat’s pace,
One crawl’d like a snail,
One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.
Here the narrator uses their omniscience in order to relate their feelings of Laura or more over what she was seeing. Obviously, Lizzie did not witness any of this as she had “done a runner” the descriptions couldn’t really be considered to be particularly flattering, save for maybe the first description (although I hate cats so I took this to be disparaging too!) but the animals the goblins are compared to have vermin-like qualities and then there is the comparison to a snail. Snails are not creatures associated with being “cute and cuddly” these descriptions give the Goblins an almost grotesque appearance.
She heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.
The last few lines of this stanza once again point to the seductive nature of the Goblins. Despite not looking particularly pleasant, they all look interesting,. But it would appear it is the sound that they make that really lures people in. The description of the sounds they make belies the image of them given by the aforementioned descriptions. Their voices are likened to a dove. This is the second piece of Christian imagery following the mention of the apple in the first stanza. Doves are most certainly associated with purity and goodness. We already know from Lizzie’s description that the Goblins are not good and so this creates a dichotomy. Are they good or evil? There is a certain amount of ambiguity here. When you read these last few lines a reader might start to question why Lizzie appeared to be so negative.
Laura stretch’d her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.
The fourth stanza of ‘Goblin Market’ is used to describe Laura’s reaction to seeing the Goblins. Rather than being reviled by them. After all the descriptions of them weren’t exactly pleasant. She once again seems to be drawn to them. Her actions are not the actions of somebody who is scared or repulsed. They describe the actions of somebody who is displaying curiosity. Rossetti draws on nature here to help emphasize this. She compares Laura, first to a swan, and then a lily, then a branch, and finally a vessel.
This last description is arguably the most interesting as the vessel seems to be escaping. This description gives the impression that her cares have abandoned her. She is no longer restrained by her fears much like the aforementioned vessel she is now free to do what she wants. Whereas the lily gave the impression of an object that was anchored. These two contrasts are used to give the impression that Laura is breaking away from what she knows is acceptable. Her curiosity has gotten the best of her and she is effectively giving in to temptation.
Backwards up the mossy glen
Turn’d and troop’d the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
“Come buy, come buy.”
The first part of this fifth stanza described the goblin men’s actions. The first line gives us another clue as to the setting. It is clever how Rossetti sets a scene by “drip feeding” little snippets of information pertaining to the environment. So we get to see our image of the location develop as the poem does. The narrative at this point has clearly returned to a standard third-person narrative and is not from the perspective of Laura any longer.
I base that opinion on the fact that the descriptions in this section are more alarming and offer a more negative slant. Referring to the goblins as “troop’d” gives a military connotation. Is this just a clever way of getting us to associate the goblins with war, or maybe even death? Their cries are described here as shrill, remember how in the previous stanza they were likened to a dove?
Clearly, the narrative viewpoint has changed dramatically here. And once again we get to see the familiar cry “Come buy, come buy.” Just as a note, that rhyme in my analysis was a coincidence! I’m not trying to outdo Rossetti!
When they reach’d where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
This section of the fifth stanza seems to detail the Goblin’s reaction to spotting Laura. This part of the poem seems to have a sinister edge to it. Note the use of the word leering. And how they are referred to as queer. This of course didn’t have the homosexual connotations that it does today and instead meant unusual. But it certainly isn’t a positive description of the Goblins. Then in the sixth line, they are referred to as being sly. This definitely hints at the narrator’s omniscience. This then acts almost like a forewarning. But just how are the goblins sly? Well, I guess that they are able to “seduce” Laura using just their words despite their appearance lends credence to this idea.
One set his basket down,
One rear’d his plate;
These two lines are a reference to the items that the goblins used in an earlier stanza in order to carry their fruit.
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
This is interesting as we know that this narrative voice is knowledgeable and understands that the goblins aren’t to be trusted but even he/she can’t help but comment on how good their wares appear. Claiming that they’re unrivaled by saying “Men sell not such in any town” I don’t think this means the narrator would fall for their tricks but is just a subtle way of showing a level of understanding Laura’s actions.
One heav’d the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
“Come buy, come buy,” was still their cry.
Once again we see a reference to the items being used to carry the fruit and a repetition of the Goblin’s catchphrase. It has been used so many times now the repetition is almost starting to make it sound a bit creepy. Or at least in my opinion it is, but I think that is intentional. It almost acts like a drone on a set of bagpipes. That phrase is just always there in the background.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Long’d but had no money:
Here we start to see the temptation rear its ugly head. Laura has started to long for the fruit. She stares blankly but does not engage with the goblins as she knows that she doesn’t have any money. But here we see the temptation element of ‘Goblin Market’. Laura knows that buying their fruit is wrong. Lizzie has told her as much and she herself was wary, to begin with. But here she is actively longing for it. Whether this poem is about sexual temptation or addiction to substances one thing is for certain it is about temptation and giving in to it and here we really see Laura starting to do that.
The whisk-tail’d merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The idea of this particular goblin having a tail that is shaped like a whisk is interesting. Although this may just be me. But that evoked an idea of a pointed tail, the kind that one might associate with the devil, perhaps. But as I say perhaps that is just me! We see again here the idea of the goblins using their voices in order to help tempt people. This time the voice of the goblin is described as being “smooth as honey”
The cat-faced purr’d,
The rat-faced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried “Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly;”—
One whistled like a bird.
In one of the previous stanzas, the goblins were all likened to animals. Here we see them once again described by using comparisons to the animals from the previous stanza. Because of the nature of the animals that are used to describe them, I think the effect here is that it dehumanizes the goblins and by that I mean it makes them appear as if they are devoid of humanity. The reoccurring theme of the goblin’s words being sweet is evident here. In a strange way, their voices almost offer a reflection of the fruits that they are trying to peddle. One thing I noticed about this section is how it refers to one of the goblins as being parrot-like. The reason this is interesting is that parrots are associated with repetition. They repeat what others have said. Throughout ‘Goblin Market’ the goblins have repeated their mantra: “Come buy, come buy”.
But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
“Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.”
I really like the description in the first line of this stanza. The image it gives of Laura is of someone who really can’t refuse sweet things and we see further evidence of this as the poem continues. The narration then slips into dialogue, which quite fascinatingly is referred to as being hasty, I think the intonation here is that she shouldn’t have spoken at all. Laura begins to explain her predicament to the goblins. She makes it abundantly clear that she would take fruit if it wasn’t for her lack of funds. She describes having no copper and silver and then rather poetically claims that the only gold she has is the golden flowers that grow on the local gorse plants. However this does create a strange vision of the landscape as up until recently the location has been defined by its water-side dwelling plants whereas gorse is a plant that one atypically associates with a dry area, such as moorland. Perhaps the foliage represents many areas just like the fruit that the goblins are peddling?
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answer’d all together:
The goblins seemingly deliver this line in unison. This makes it apparent that they all have a similar plan in mind. It is quite a sinister answer really. However, as it is revealed they are in fact talking about Laura’s hair. (Not that that is any less sinister!)
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipp’d a precious golden lock,
She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl,
In these lines, we see Laura do what has seemed inevitable since Lizzie left her behind. She has succumbed. She gives the goblins the payment that they require in order to get her hands on the fruit. Her hair is described as precious and one would assume that to the goblins it must be. Was that what they wanted all along, rather than money? What I don’t quite understand is why Laura sheds a tear immediately after parting a lock of her hair.
Perhaps at this point, she knows she has done something wrong and this line is representative of a feeling of guilt? The line is left to our interpretation as it isn’t explained. But if we assume that the poem isn’t meant to be taken literally and is indeed an allegory for something else, one of the popular theories is that it is about losing one’s virginity. For a woman, this can be a quite painful experience. Perhaps then, if that is what the poem is about the tear represents the instant pain that can be felt by a woman when she engages in sexual intercourse for the first time.
Then suck’d their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flow’d that juice;
She never tasted such before,
Okay, so if the theory that I postulated previously is in fact accurate then here is where things get a little disturbing. If taken in a sexual context there is so much innuendo in this section that it could be considered comical. Albeit a rather crude comedy! I’m not suggesting that “fruit globes” are a euphemism for a man’s testes! But is that beyond the realms of possibility? If that is the case then the thing that is described as being “Sweeter than honey from the rock” could well be a man’s semen.
Of course one of the other prevailing theories is that the meaning of the poem is actually concerning drug abuse. If that is the case it makes these descriptions far less “uncomfortable” instead of describing things of a sexual nature the fruit is a metaphor for the high that a person feels when on illicit substances. Back then it probably would have been alcohol rather than drugs
How should it cloy with length of use?
Cloy is a word for sickening. So I guess the real question that is being asked here is will Laura ever get sick of eating the sweet fruits? The next line sheds a little bit of light and almost appears to answer that very question.
She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
Once again the top line of this quote could be construed to be quite explicit if the poem’s true meaning is of a sexual nature! It would certainly cast aspersions on the many people who have read this poem to their children due to its nursery rhyme-like quality! That’s not to say that that isn’t the case it could well be that the double entendres are deliberate and it is in fact about sex. Of course not unlike the lines above it could also be used as a metaphor for any addiction as she doesn’t appear to be able to stop herself.
At this point in ‘Goblin Market,‘ it would seem that Laura has lost all sense of control. The second line in this quote gives the reader a timely reminder that we aren’t really assured about the legitimacy of this fruit. We don’t know if it is “kosher” for want of a better phrase.
She suck’d until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gather’d up one kernel stone,
This section focuses on her finishing the fruit. I think the image of her discarding the bits that she didn’t want. The rinds etc. create an image of someone who is careless. I think that it represents her as carefree but also a little bit slapdash! And then when she is finished she picks up one of the discarded stones from the fruit. Why is this? It is another one of the questions the poem asks of the reader where there is no obvious answer!
And knew not was it night or day
As she turn’d home alone.
The last two lines of this stanza reveal a worrying turn. Laura comes across as disorientated in this section as if the fruit that she has been devouring has affected her. It is here, perhaps more so than at any other point in the ‘Goblin Market’ that we can start to see why peoples theorize that the poem is actually about the dangers of substance abuse. Could ingesting the “fruit” be responsible for her appearing to be “out of it” that seems very likely. It is at this point that Laura’s interactions with the goblins subside, Or at least for now, it does.
Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
It would appear then that Lizzie had been concerned about Laura (Who we assume is her sister as they live together) as she had been waiting at the gate. The likelihood is then for all of Laura’s supposed discombobulation she was not in fact gone for very long. Lizzie would likely not have been waiting around if Laura had been gone a long time. She probably would have gone and looked for her.
“Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
This next section contains Lizzie’s dialogue aimed at Laura.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Pluck’d from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the noonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so.”
“Nay, hush,” said Laura:
“Nay, hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more;” and kiss’d her:
“Have done with sorrow;
I’ll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap.”
In this section, Laura extols the virtues of the fruits she has sampled. She almost sounds like the Goblins her praise is so effusive! What I find interesting is the use of the word odious. This is obviously a pretty negative description and could be a forewarning that things aren’t quite as rosy as Laura would have us believe.
Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtain’d bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipp’d with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars gaz’d in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapp’d to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Lock’d together in one nest.
There is a slight ambiguity as to the nature of this stanza as it seems a little out of place. Although my interpretation of it is that it describes Lizzie and Laura as they sleep. The descriptions of the two girls give them the appearance of being pure and virtuous. It gives the impression of a very quiet night which may well be just the calm before the storm.
Early in the morning
When the first cock crow’d his warning,
This is a little bit of a red flag. Why is the cock’s crow being described as a warning? This creates a sense of tension. Also, this could be considered a vague biblical reference. Remember in the bible the tale of the cock crowing three times when Peter denied knowing Jesus.
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetch’d in honey, milk’d the cows,
Air’d and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churn’d butter, whipp’d up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sew’d;
Talk’d as modest maidens should:
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight,
One longing for the night.
This describes the actions of the girls during their daytime. At first, the descriptions make it seem like the girls are two peas in a pod but as it develops we see the differences between the two girls. One of them was happy and contented. Seemingly living in the moment. The other, Laura, longed for the nighttime. She is in a daze. This adds weight to the idea that she is on some sort of substance. Either way, she seems to be longing for her next fix of whatever it is she is actually addicted to.
At length slow evening came:
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep;
Lizzie pluck’d purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: “The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags.
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.”
But Laura loiter’d still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.
This is what Lizzie has been waiting for! The girls visit the brook in order to gather water. This is clearly not an experience that Lizzie is enjoying. Laura on the other hand is atypically excited. Lizzie tries to hurry the experience on, wary of what might happen whereas Laura is keen to stay as she wants to see the Goblin men and sample more of their fruits. Lizzies continues to implore Laura, but she is having none of it!
And said the hour was early still
The dew not fall’n, the wind not chill;
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
This section describes the scenery. It really does not paint a particularly pretty picture
“Come buy, come buy,”
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.
We see in this section that Laura is set to be disappointed. There doesn’t appear to be a hint of “Goblin activity” I think the most interesting part about this section of ‘Goblin Market’ is the fact that the Goblin’s words are described as “sugar baited.”
I think this is a glorious description of how seductive the Goblins can be. Not how they are described as a herd. This makes one think of cattle and really helps to paint a picture of what seeing this Goblin troupe would appear like. They are further described as “tramping” and “brisk” giving them an almost “bullish” quality. Although it would appear that this is a quality the girls, or at least one of them, can no longer see, much to Laura’s chagrin!
Till Lizzie urged, “O Laura, come;
I hear the fruit-call but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
So it would appear, as suggested in the previous stanza, that the goblins have not returned to where the girls first became cognizant of their existence. But in the opening of this stanza Lizzie claims to hear the “fruit-call” of the Goblins. This is odd though as Laura herself heard nothing. Is there a reason for this?
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glowworm winks her spark,
Amongst the implied horror of certain sections of this poem, there are some genuinely beautiful pieces of descriptive poetry. This section here is a lovely couplet that describes in such a wonderful way the passing into the nighttime.
Let us get home before the night grows dark:
For clouds may gather
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?”
Lizzie is ever the worrier and although she claims to have heard the Goblins and their familiar chant it would appear she isn’t worried about that but more so about the girls getting trapped in a summer storm and getting lost after dark. Why does she seem to be more worried about the weather than the goblins? Is this a distraction technique to try and get her sister to stop obsessing over the Goblins? Perhaps she is just being brave? It’s hard to say but it is interesting, to say the least! Also, note how this isn’t in quotes and how the narration of the poem takes on Lizzie’s voice for this section. This technique is used a lot throughout ‘Goblin Market’. The narrator seems to have omniscience and slips from one perspective to another when required.
Laura turn’d cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
If Lizzie was trying to distract her sister from the fact that she could hear the Goblins it obviously didn’t work. It would also appear that Laura can still not hear them at all. Why is this? Perhaps it is because she had already succumbed to temptation? Perhaps the Goblins only appear to try and tempt those that haven’t sampled their wares? Don’t forget that Goblins have always been associated with the mystical and them having powers such as this would not be unfeasible. (at least not in a fictional world!) Once again the mechanics for this are never revealed and is left largely up to the imagination of the reader.
That goblin cry,
“Come buy our fruits, come buy.”
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
The narrative voice here sounds almost like it is sympathizing with Laura. It obviously isn’t narrated from Laura’s perspective as it refers to her as “she” but given the tone of this section one would assume that it is no longer being narrated from the perspective of Lizzie either. The narrator also postulated here that perhaps Laura is losing her senses. Perhaps she should be seeing and hearing the Goblins and cannot because it is not physically possible? It is revealed as ‘Goblin Market’ progresses that Laura has contracted some kind of illness but this resulting in blindness or lack of hearing is never actually stated. In fact, later on in the poem, Laura responds to questions from her sister which sort of proves that she doesn’t lose her hearing.
Her tree of life droop’d from the root:
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, nought discerning,
Trudg’d home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
This is a lovely description of the way that Laura manages to suppress her inner disappointment. She seems to be sulking but she doesn’t verbalize that in any way. Perhaps this is because she fears her sister’s scorn? Her motives aren’t entirely clear but that would seem to be a pretty fair assumption. Her body language however speaks volumes as she “trudges” home. Her pitcher dripping water may well be symbolic. It may be a metaphor for her sadness, the dripping water reflecting the tears of disappointment that she is trying to quell. Or perhaps it is once again a reflection of Laura’s character, the suggestion being that she doesn’t care enough to check something like that.
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnash’d her teeth for baulk’d desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.
This isn’t just sadness. This section of ‘Goblin Market’ does more to reveal the poem’s true nature, a tale of addiction, than almost any other part of the poem. Laura doesn’t just desire more fruit she “passionately years” for it. This paints a picture of a girl who is desperate. Clenching her teeth is more the action you would expect from a child, and although her age is never stated, one would assume that Laura is not a child. Therefore these actions point to her desperation.
Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
“Come buy, come buy;”—
This is interesting as it seems to suggest that Laura never really gets over her obsession. In the previous stanza, it focused on that one particular moment but in this section, it is clear that the feeling does not seem to subside with time. Laura is still longing to hear the Goblin’s familiar refrain. What is of note is that she never lets on to Lizzie that she is feeling this anguish and instead keeps her feelings quiet. Or at least she tries to do that. Later her true feelings become more obvious and she is unable to hide them.
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon wax’d bright
Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay and burn
Her fire away.
We start to see at the end of this stanza the effect that not being able to once again meet the Goblins is having on Laura. It sounds pretty severe as her hair begins to thin and turn grey and it seems like she is starting to become sick. The last three lines of the stanza suggest that she is becoming increasingly lethargic. Is this just down to sadness? Depression can manifest itself in a physical way and many of the descriptions of Laura’s behavior after her encounter with the Goblins sound like symptoms of depression.
Or is this a result of not being able to obtain something to which she has an addiction? Like a heroin addict trying to go “cold turkey”? Although I’m not sure what drugs were available at that time, and if any of the ones that did exist had side effects like this. To be honest I suppose that even reducing your alcohol ingestion if you’re an alcoholic can lead to the DTs.
The descriptions make the condition sound serious. What isn’t entirely clear is if these are genuine physical ailments or if this is just the narrator’s way of dramatizing how Laura seems to be coping with her personal trauma. As ‘Goblin Market’ develops it would seem that this is a genuine physical condition that is affecting Laura.
One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dew’d it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watch’d for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
Laura’s desperation seems to reach new lows as on a random day she takes one of the leftover seeds from the fruit that she ate (remember how I said this would come back into play?) and tries to plant it. The imagery here is really engaging as the narrator talks of her watering the plant with her own tears. Of course, this is probably symbolic rather than being intended to be taken literally. What’s clear though is that it doesn’t seem to work.
The fact that this seed doesn’t turn into a fruit either signifies a long passage of time, in order for Laura to be sure that it didn’t bear fruit or is in fact more of a metaphor for her impatience. Perhaps she craves instant gratification and the idea of waiting for a seed to grow is just too much for her! I think the latter is probably more reasonable. Although, the passage of time is a reoccurring and significant theme throughout ‘Goblin Market’.
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dream’d of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crown’d trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.
Still, she fantasizes and longs to indulge in the fruit and it sets her mind racing as she imagines the glorious fruit and dreams of its origins. Is this just a form of escapism? It seems to suggest that Laura’s life has seemed really mundane since she ate the fruit.
She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetch’d honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.
Here we see a massive change in her demeanor. Until now she had been able to hide her emotions from Lizzie, but now it would seem that Laura has lost control of her faculties. She has seemingly abandoned doing all the things that she should be doing. She has also stopped eating. Maybe the idea of regular food is just too mundane to her now? Or perhaps this isn’t at all psychological and the inability to eat is a sign that her condition is deteriorating.
Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister’s cankerous care
Yet not to share.
This speaks volumes about the kind of person that Lizzie is. She simply can’t stand to watch her sister suffer. She feels she must somehow intervene.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins’ cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy;”—
Beside the brook, along the glen,
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The yoke and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Long’d to buy fruit to comfort her,
But fear’d to pay too dear.
This is interesting. Despite knowing that it would be a slippery slope, Lizzie is so keen to help Laura that she even contemplates just buying fruit in order to give to her. Ultimately this is the approach she takes. It also becomes very clear in this section that Lizzie consistently hears the Goblins even though Laura doesn’t.
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter time
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter time.
Although the temptation to help Laura is mounting, Lizzie cannot shake the story of Jeannie who died after giving in to temptation. Will this fear be enough to stop her from succumbing in order to save Laura?
Till Laura dwindling
Seem’d knocking at Death’s door:
Then Lizzie weigh’d no more
Better and worse;
It would seem by this point Lizzie can no longer just sit by and watch Laura suffer and so decides to take action. I guess that she assumes that doing something is better than doing nothing.
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kiss’d Laura, cross’d the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook:
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.
The silver penny being taken on her journey has some significance here. The suggestion is that Lizzie will actually purchase something from the Goblins. Is there a slight religious connotation here? It’s often talked about giving the devil thirty pieces of silver. Is there a significance to this? We see at the end of this stanza Lizzie opens herself up to temptation. She allows herself to look for the Goblins and listen to their hypnotic tune, something that she had up until now avoided.
Laugh’d every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
The Goblins seem to feel a sense of satisfaction here. Perhaps they viewed Lizzie as a prize target due to her reluctance to give into them?
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
The description of the actions of the Goblins is lengthy and helps to create an image of the creatures based purely on their actions. The flurry of adjectives and the lack of a full stop here create a frenetic pace to ‘Goblin Market’ and give the impression of the Goblins being almost like a rabble. It isn’t hard to imagine this is similar to a London Market, a hive of activity.
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel- and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter skelter, hurry skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes,—
The descriptions continue and they aren’t particularly flattering. Once again these reference the animalistic nature of the Goblins.
Hugg’d her and kiss’d her:
Squeez’d and caress’d her:
This text is particularly evocative. It reveals a slight sexualized nature to the Goblins. This is the first time we have seen them display this kind of behavior and is probably why a lot of people feel ‘Goblin Market’ is about the loss of innocence.
Stretch’d up their dishes,
Panniers, and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Once again we see the Goblins talking up their products. There is certainly a hint of double entendre in a couple of the lines. In particular “Pluck them and suck them” could be said to have sexual connotations.
“Good folk,” said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie:
“Give me much and many: —
Held out her apron,
Toss’d them her penny.
Lizzie appears to be quite curt with the Goblins here. You could refer to her approach as “business-like” even to the fact she tosses them the payment. All the while In the back of her mind is the horrible fate of Jeanie. This is a testament to her courage.
“Nay, take a seat with us,
Honour and eat with us,”
They answer’d grinning:
“Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry:
This is where the seduction begins. It is clear that the Goblins do not want Lizzie to just take their wares and depart. This comes across as quite suspicious.
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavour would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us.”—
They continue to press Lizzie to eat the fruit in front of them, but to what end?
“Thank you,” said Lizzie: “But one waits
At home alone for me:
So without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I toss’d you for a fee.”—
Here Lizzie shows her obvious bravery. She is clearly in no mood to be messed with. Although amusingly she maintains her civility, remembering her manners, whilst rejecting the Goblin’s offer of the company. She demands that if they won’t serve her what she requires that they return her payment. Considering how wary she was of these creatures she certainly doesn’t seem to be suffering from any worry now. Perhaps this is due to adrenaline or because helping Laura is far more important to her than her own safety.
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One call’d her proud,
Their tones wax’d loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
The demeanor of the Goblins changes dramatically here. Up until this point they have been charming and convincing but here they start to display a much nastier side. They hurl insults at her at first. The narrator describes them as being evil and we are told once again that they have tails. Could this be another reference to the devil?
They trod and hustled her,
Elbow’d and jostled her,
Claw’d with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soil’d her stocking,
Twitch’d her hair out by the roots,
Stamp’d upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeez’d their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.
The remaining part of this stanza describes the actions of the Goblins and it is very uncomfortable. They physically assault Lizzie. If the metaphor this poem is trying to convey is the loss of innocence then this scene could be considered to portray a rape. And for me at least it makes me feel very uncomfortable. If ‘Goblin Market’ is about substance addiction, then I guess this would be the equivalent of forcing somebody’s first hit upon them in order to get them addicted. Either way, it is probably one of the most harrowing moments of the poem.
White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,—
Like a rock of blue-vein’d stone
Lash’d by tides obstreperously,—
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire,—
Once again we see glorified the type of person Lizzie is. Despite the advances of the Goblins, she remains pure. As suggested by the use of white and gold, colors are associated with virtue. She is described as a lily in a flood and a rock, this is to help emphasize her stubborn resistance. She then is acting as an example to all with her steadfast actions, hence the comparison to a beacon.
Like a fruit-crown’d orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee,—
Like a royal virgin town
Topp’d with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguer’d by a fleet
Mad to tug her standard down.
The stanza continues to champion her actions. Suggesting that she fights valiantly against a “fleet” of Goblins. Once again there is a hint of sexual connotations as the word virgin is included in the descriptions of Lizzie’s actions.
One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
This takes an old proverb and puts a different twist on it. But the essential message here is that Lizzie successfully withstood the pressures of the Goblins.
Though the goblins cuff’d and caught her,
Coax’d and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratch’d her, pinch’d her black as ink,
Kick’d and knock’d her,
Maul’d and mock’d her,
Lizzie utter’d not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
This section describes all that Lizzie had to endure and yet she would not let herself give in to the temptation even when she was physically forced she wouldn’t succumb.
Lest they should cram a mouthful in:
But laugh’d in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupp’d all her face,
And lodg’d in dimples of her chin,
And streak’d her neck which quaked like curd.
This describes Lizzie as laughing in the heart. I think the suggestion here is that despite feeling battered and bruised she feels victorious haven not give in, even when the juice from the fruit was practically forced into her mouth. If this poem is about sex then it is tough to fit the metaphor over Lizzie’s actions here. Clearly, she resisted the temptation, but we really are no closer to ascertaining what that temptation was! I guess it is one of the poem’s most enduring mysteries!
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kick’d their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
It becomes clear now that Lizzie won the battle and managed to outlast the Goblin assault despite their overwhelming numerical advantage. The Goblins no longer the mighty, scary beasts they once were begin a retreat.
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writh’d into the ground,
Some div’d into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanish’d in the distance.
The suggestion here is that they vanish without a trace. It is clear then that they have been defeated by the actions of Lizzie.
In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore thro’ the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse,—
Its bounce was music to her ear.
Lizzie is euphoric having resisted the temptation of the Goblins. She is clearly subject to an adrenalin rush as she makes her way home at some pace. The reference to having kept a hold of her money once again may have significance. It represents her not giving in to temptation.
She ran and ran
As if she fear’d some goblin man
Dogg’d her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
Although she feels the thrill of victory she acts like she is worried that she isn’t “out of the woods” yet. Her body language suggests that perhaps she is worried that the Goblins may have hexed her in some way.
But not one goblin scurried after,
Nor was she prick’d by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.
It is revealed she isn’t worried at all. That she is joyous and it is that overwhelming happiness that fuels her Pacey run home. This shows just how strong a person she is. She is even referred to as having a good heart in this stanza. Lizzie is meant to be a paragon and the poet paints her thus.
She cried, “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
As soon as she returns home her first thoughts are of Laura. She seems excited to see her if her dialogue is anything to go by.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Okay, now if you are in the camp that believes this poem is all about sex – then this is about to get a bit weird! Lizzie offers the juice from the Goblin fruit to Laura. Imploring her to lick it from her face! Once again any metaphor here is hard to piece with this imagery. And perhaps this is really only meant to be taken literally. There are many moments in ‘Goblin Market’ that seem this way, perhaps there is no hidden meaning and it is all meant very literally!
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me;
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”
Lizzie refers to herself as a sort of an elixir. It’s as if she feels that Laura can rid herself of the negativity she has been enduring simply by “feeding” off of Lizzie who conquered the goblin men in order to protect Laura.
Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutch’d her hair:
“Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Here the idea of forbidden fruit is actually mentioned. Once again this is a biblical reference, although that could be unintentional. Laura is excited but there is a sense of trepidation. Is this a worry that her sister was to suffer the same fate as her own?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruin’d in my ruin,
Thirsty, canker’d, goblin-ridden?”—
Here excitement gives way entirely to fear as she postulates what her brave sister may now have to endure if she had given in to temptation, which Laura assumes she has.
She clung about her sister,
Kiss’d and kiss’d and kiss’d her:
Tears once again
Refresh’d her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth.
For the first time, we see Lizzie actually crying. Remember earlier she was hiding her emotions and now it seems she is at least able to let them out. This could just be her finally “dealing” with her ordeal.
Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
Wormwood is a poison. Interestingly it was also an ingredient in traditional absinth and it is what gave it its hallucinogenic properties. If the poem is about substance addiction then potentially this is a substance that might have been abused!
She loath’d the feast:
Writhing as one possess’d she leap’d and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
It seems that Laura is going through an ordeal as she tastes the juice from the fruit. Assuming this is some kind of a cure it would appear to not be an instant one as Laura writhes and beats his chest. It sounds almost like she is being given an exorcism!
Her locks stream’d like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.
The description continues and does a wonderful job of evoking the idea of a frenetic reaction to the fruit juices. It does this by bombarding the reader with quick-fire images which help to create the appropriate tone.
Swift fire spread through her veins, knock’d at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame;
It seems then that this juice from the fruit is able to quell the passion that Laura feels. Could it be that the Goblins need to be present when the fruit is consumed for it to have its negative effect? And in the absence of the Goblins do the fruit juices cancel the ill effects of eating the fruit?
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
It would seem then that this may well be the cure but it is “tough medicine”! The narrator even berates Laura for consuming it!
Sense fail’d in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Like a foam-topp’d waterspout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life?
Once again the narrator berates Laura for trying this “cure” could it be then that the narrative voice here is that of a Goblin? It does seem to have an almost mocking tone in this section. The stanza is rounded out by the question “Is it death or is it life?” this creates a sense of tension heading into the penultimate stanza. It really creates a feeling like Laura’s life hangs precariously in the balance.
Life out of death.
The answer to the question doesn’t take a long time to arrive as it would appear that Laura survived.
That night long Lizzie watch’d by her,
Counted her pulse’s flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cool’d her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
Lizzie sits with her sister throughout the night and tends to her. She plays the nursemaid perfectly and once again proves her strength of character by being a supportive sister. Although we have already been told that Laura survives her condition seems perilous still. The idea of Lizzie checking her breath and her pulse is the actions of someone checking if a person is still alive! This adds gravitas to the situation.
But when the first birds chirp’d about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
This obviously represents the morning, there is a sense of foreboding instilled in the reader here with the mention of “reapers” although this image is juxtaposed with birds chirping it offers a nice contrast and helps add tension to the “will she/won’t she survive” question.
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bow’d in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Open’d of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laugh’d in the innocent old way,
Hugg’d Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks show’d not one thread of grey,
Her breath was sweet as May
And light danced in her eyes.
It would appear then that Laura did in fact recover from her sickness and was returned to her former self. Full of life and energy. It’s nice that she acknowledges her sister’s efforts.
Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
It would appear then that even as grown-ups the girls never fully recovered from their ordeal with the Goblin men. Which in some ways is surprising as Lizzie appeared to be buoyant after her run-in with them. Perhaps seeing the effect that they had on Laura made her once again fearful of the men and their powers?
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat
But poison in the blood;
It would appear then that Laura is much changed following her experience and warns her own children lest they befall the same fate that she did. Perhaps her newfound fear stems from age or experience, or maybe it’s just mothering instincts kicking in.
(Men sell not such in any town):
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
What is nice is how Laura praises her sister for saving her and makes sure that she always relays that part of the story.
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”
It kind of seems with this ending that whilst the story may be a metaphor for addiction or for the loss of one’s innocence essentially the message is one of sisterhood. Rossetti’s poems were often said to have strong feminist undertones and it seems that is the case here.
The moral is that sisterly love or family love more generally, is important to keep from falling into temptation. Specifically, the poem speaks about female sexuality and purity and how the latter should be protected and maintained. the poem also critiques the unfair standards for women in Rossetti’s contemporary time.
The central themes of ‘Goblin Market’ are temptation and salvation. Sisterhood is also commonly cited as an important theme and is seen through Lizzie and Laura’s connection.
Rossetti used numerous symbolic images in ‘Goblin Market.’ Thye included the fruit as a symbol of temptation and sexuality, the silver penny as a symbol of female genitalia, and flowers as a symbol of delicate female purity.
The silver penny represents female genitalia in ‘Goblin Market.’ It is used to describe how Lizzie, unlike Laura, held on to her innocence and virginity.
‘Goblin Market’ was influenced by Romanticism as well as the social norms of Victorian England and gothic literature. ‘Goblin Market’ is a strange and dark poem that still surprises readers to this day.
The goblins are selling “fantastic fruit’ in ‘Goblin Market.’ It is a symbol of temptation and corruption in the poem. Laura is entranced by its forbidden nature.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Goblin Market’ should also consider reading some of Christina Rossetti’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘Spring‘ – a beautiful depiction of spring, the sights, founds, and feelings that go along with it. Rossetti uses poignant examples of imagery throughout this short poem.
- ‘Remember’ – address a couple’s future and the speaker’s desire the be remembered, but not if it causes her lover sadness. In
- ‘Maude Clare‘ – tells the story of two women, Maude Clare and Nell, both of whom are in love with Sir Thomas. The story progresses from there, using contextual details from Rossetti’s own time, providing an insight into her life and the lives of others.
About Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti was a nineteenth-century poet who is most famed for her poems ‘Goblin Market’ and ‘Remember‘ and also for penning the lyrics to the Christmas carol: “In the Bleak Midwinter”. She was born in London. Her father was also a poet. Her siblings were creative types too. Her sister was a poet and artist and her two brothers became writers.
She was widely considered one of the best female poets of her time and her work garnered much praise and acclaim. Despite claiming ambivalence about women’s rights and equality many scholars have claimed there are feminist themes in some of Rossetti’s poetry. This could be claimed by the Goblin market given the lack of any male characters.