Morning and eveningSisters Lizzie and Laura, down at the brook to fetch water, hear the goblins cry in the evening.
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy.
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries..."
"We must not look at goblin men,When Laura succumbs to temptation and gorges herself on sweet goblin fruit, she loses her taste for anything else and begins to fade away, unable anymore to hear the goblins calling. Until Lizzie, desperate to save her sister's life, finally dares to go to the goblins in order to bring back fruit for Laura.
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"
The chief delight of this poem is the language. Rossetti wields a lush and gorgeous vocabulary that comes alive with reading aloud. The irregularities in the rhythm and rhyme structure prevent the short lines from degenerating into sing-song doggrel, and despite its somewhat heavy subject matter, the poem remains, like its youthful authoress, fresh and charming.
Critics have, of course, argued for years about what Goblin Market, with its forbidden fruit and its sensuous vocabulary, really means. If anything, I favour the fallen-woman interpretation. Both Christina's brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as their friend and fellow Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt, chose to paint pictures on this topic. In Hunt's The Awakening of Conscience, a young woman with clasped hands turns away from her lover to stare out of a window toward the viewer at a moment perhaps of resistance, perhaps of remorse or repentance. In Dante Gabriel Rossetti's unfinished picture Found!, a young farmer going to market discovers his old sweetheart working the city streets, and seizes her wrists as she collapses dramatically. Christina Rossetti herself began volunteer work with "fallen women" at Highgate Penitentiary on or shortly after the date of the completion of Goblin Market. However, according to William Michael Rossetti, Christina's brother, "I have more than once heard Christina say that she did not mean anything profound by this fairy tale - it is not a moral apologue consistently carried out in detail."
|Ironically, it was DGR's own Cockney mistress who posed for this picture.|
Apart from all this, Goblin Market is a wonderful entry in the English fairy-tale genre, a tradition that stretches back to Middle English lays like Sir Orfeo or Tam Lin, and all the way forward to more modern works like Stardust or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It was first published in 1862 as part of a collection of Rossetti's poems, and Goblin Market and Other Poems remains one of my favourite Rossetti collections. If you like poetry and English fairy tales, be sure to dip into Goblin Market.
Find Goblin Market and Other Poems on Amazon, the Book Depository, Librivox, or Project Gutenberg.