Close reading of Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Goblin Market’ (1859-1862)
She cried “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me? 465
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew. 470
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.”
Laura started from her chair, 475
Flung her arms up in the air, Clutched her hair:
“Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden, 480
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin,
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?” —
She clung about her sister, 485
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth; 490
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.
Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast: 495
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung Her hands in lamentable haste, And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch 500
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, 505
Or like a flying flag when armies run.
Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame;
She gorged on bitterness without a name: 510
Ah! fool, to choose such part Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down, 515
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Like a foam-topped waterspout
Cast down headlong in the sea, 520
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past, Is it death or is it life?
Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her, 525
Counted her pulse's flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves, 530
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day 535
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey, 540
Her breath was sweet as May And light danced in her eyes.
Her breath was sweet as May And light danced in her eyes.
Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own; 545
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
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 550
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; 555
(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:
Then joining hands to little hands 560
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, 565
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”
[END OF PAPER]
In this essay, I will discuss an extract of the poem ‘Goblin Market’ of Christina Rossetti. First, I will analyse the structure, genre, and theme of the poem and its relation to its historical moment. Secondly, I will do a close reading of the poem, analysing it stanza by stanza and taking into account the different rhetorical devices that appear in itself. Finally, I will give a general opinion of the poem.
Goblin Market is a narrative poem composed in 1859 and published in 1862. It was written in the Victorian Age (1830-1901), a period of industrialization, where there was a class consciousness and where women began to be taught in other things apart from music or drawing. The main themes are numerous in this poem, one of them is women and femininity, because ‘Goblin Market’ is a woman’s world where there are no male characters and this is going to be very relevant in the development of the story. Another theme is the sexual one, which, despite being a poem dedicated for children according to the author, there is an erotic imagery, as for instance goblin’s fruits used as a metaphor for sex, and there is also a sensual language used between the two sisters. Fruits can also be seen as drugs, as one of the sisters (Laura) became addicted to them, so we can say that the theme of drugs is also presented in this poem. Finally, the last of the main themes I can mention is the theme of violence, presented in the part where Lizzie is attacked by the goblins or in eating the food if it is interpreted as the loss of virginity.
Most of the poem is written in iambic tetrameter, but its rhyme is irregular, although there are innumerable couplets in the poem. The six stanzas we are going to analyse have an irregular amount of lines, being the first stanza shorter than the other ones. The narrator of this poem is, in general, an objective third-person narrator who is describing what the two sisters are doing, although in the extract, we see that there are some exceptions, as for instance, in lines 511 and 512, where the narrator breaks out with this and addresses to Laura directly, losing the objectivity.
The extract of the poem we are about to analyse belongs to the last part of the poem, I am going to collect the main ideas of each stanza in order to give my own opinion. On the one hand, the first stanza can be seen from a sexual point of view, in which fruits can have been used as a metaphor for sex. In the stanza, we see that Lizzie enters the house inviting Laura to lick up the goblin fruit juice off her. However, seeing the language used by Lizzie asking Laura to do it, we see that it’s pretty erotic ‘Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices’ (l.468) repeating nearly the same structure (parallelism) just a few lines later ‘Eat me, drink me, love me’ (l. 471). Lizzie was even wounded by the goblins, but with this figurative language, the meaning of being reunited changes for a great reason to be happy to a sexual one. If, on the other hand, we see this stanza as it were for children, the meaning changes and we only see the love between sisters, that is to say, Lizzie saving Laura from death, and the bravery of Lizzie for having fought against the goblins.
The second stanza of the extract is about how the reencounter is produced between both sisters and how Laura drinks the juice. As in the first stanza, we can see the second one from two points of view, in spite of the fact that the erotic one, in my view, prevails from the other. Laura is worried about Lizzie because she didn’t know if she had eaten ‘the fruit forbidden’ (l. 479) (religious reference from the story of Adam and Eve). Afterwards, there is a contrast that Laura makes comparing herself to Lizzie ‘Must your light like mine be hidden’ (l.480) and ‘Your young life like mine be wasted’ (l.481) transmitting pessimism about her situation. She continues emphasizing her bad situation and she doesn’t want to drag Lizzie down. Then we see how Laura returns to life thanks to the goblin’s juice. The word ‘kiss’ is repeated three times, making an emphasis in the sisterhood love, and we observe that Laura returns to life because she is able to cry again. In my opinion, now she is crying because of the relief of being alive, so it is a good aspect. In the final lines of the stanza I believe there is an element of greed and desire, especially it says ‘She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth’ (l.492), but at the same time she’s transmitting affection and gratitude to her sister that has saved her.
In the third stanza, we see that this juice doesn’t taste good and she acts as she is possessed when she drinks it, suffering because of it in burning her lips and it is ‘wormwood to her tongue’ (l.494). I’ve interpreted this passage of the stanza as some kind of cure or sacrilege done to a person possessed by an evil spirit that wants to take out all the evilness of his body. In the second part of the stanza, Laura is described with several similes, as for example in line 503 ‘Or like an eagle when she stems the light’, describing her liberation from the poison, from the evil spirits. She is compared to ‘a mane of horses’, ‘an eagle’, ‘a flag’ and even to the Olympic torch (in lines 500 and 501), all of them referring to her new freedom and liberation from the goblin’s poison. This new freedom of Laura made me think about all the social movements led by women in the Victorian era in order to have equal opportunities to work and to have similar salaries as men. For this reason, I consider that the author is referring to femininity and women’s liberation. Furthermore, the author can be also referring to the exclusion of women from the male-dominated artistic world during this era, like Christina Rossetti herself with her brothers as, despite the fact that they encouraged her writing, they did not allow her to become an official member of their artistic movement.
Now the fourth stanza deals with Laura’s healing start to act with a ‘lesser flame’ (l.509). Nevertheless, the most important fact of this stanza is the narrator’s intrusion in the argument of the story, losing thereby, all the objectiveness of the narration. It seems to me that the narrator did this so as to do more emphasis on the fact that Laura made a bad decision. He talks in the first person and directly to Laura, creating at the same time a climax in the narration. Another point of view to see this part of the poem is the religious one, when God expels Eve from the Garden of Eden because she ate the forbidden fruit, in this case, the voice of the narrator would be God and Laura would be Eve. Further on, there are again several similes comparing her struggle to live to ‘watch-tower’ (l.514), a ‘mast’ (l.516) or a ‘wind-uprooted tree’ (l.517). All these things are fighting against natural forces, so personally, I think that the author is trying to emphasize the difficulty of this struggle against life because natural forces can be stopped. And suddenly, Laura loses her consciousness or ‘spun about’ (l.518) and she casts down. In the final lines of the stanza, the author makes more dramatism and suspense, we don’t know if she feels ‘pleasure’ or ‘anguish’ and with a final rhetorical question, ‘Is it death or is it life?’ we don’t even know if those were her last feelings. I believe that in this stanza Christina Rossetti wanted to make an atmosphere of suspense and it is the exact moment where the climax is produced. In relation to the style, I’ve realized that the lines becone shorter and shorter at the end of the stanza and this creates a more suspense effect.
In the following stanza, the poet will answer the previous rhetorical question, answering ‘Life out of death’ (l.524), nonetheless in a confusing way, because if the meaning is that Laura came back to life, it can be seen as a miracle. On the contrary, if it is a figurative way, there is no miracle. Lizzie gives her water and she cries again and the atmosphere changes into a better one. Nature returns to the scene to play an important role and now it is dawning. There is an important aspect in this stanza and it’s the fact that Laura is becoming younger and returning to life, fresh as ‘lilies’ (l.536) and her hair is returning to be blonde (before it was grey). In my view, Laura is returning to life and as in the same poem it is said ‘Laura awoke as from a dream’ (l.537), in other words, as it was before, as if the whole story had been a nightmare from which she had finally woken up. All this happiness is now reflected in nature, in a spring atmosphere, ‘Her breath was sweet as May’ (l.541). If we consider as valid the religious background we mentioned before, we can see this as the resurrection of Laura and her return to a perfect life.
In the last part of the poem, there is a flash forward ‘Days, weeks, months, years’ (l.543) and there is a contrast between past and present that I am going to explain. Firstly, we see that both sisters are now married with children, so femininity became again a main theme in the poem. In my opinion, this aspect is relevant, because men aren’t mentioned in the whole poem, but after all, we observe that there is a man’s influence in this woman’s world. We can interpret this fact as a good or bad aspect. On the one hand, if we see it in a pessimistic way, we can believe that the only man’s influence is related to marriage and their only function is to have children. On the other hand, we can see it as the fact that they also bring happiness to women, because together they are creating a family. Nonetheless, having in mind Rossetti’s personal life and how her brothers and father didn’t let her participate in the literary world at first, I would see this part of the poem in a pessimistic way. Then, Laura and Lizzie tell their children the story in a moral way, showing them how important the love between sisters is. Laura also talks about Lizzie’s heroism for having saved her. In line 556 the word ‘men’ is mentioned to say that they didn’t sell the fruit that goblins sell in any town, meaning that this fruit wasn’t normal, because as it is said in the poem, the fruit tasted like honey, but it was ‘poisoned in blood’ (l.555). Finally, the poem ends by repeating the story to the children and saying ‘there is no friend like a sister’, which is the moral of the story,
To sum up, this extract of the poem can be criticised and analysed from several points of view. However, in my view, I wouldn’t consider it as a poem for children, because of all its erotic background: related to the fruit and the sisters action, in spite of the fact that there is a moral conclusion in the last stanza. I have also found quite interesting the fact that it was a woman’s world and having into account that it was written in the Victorian era, I have realised about the possible difficulties of writing it. Religion has also been another main theme in this final extract of the poem and we can consider it as an act of social redemption of Laura for having eaten the fruit, as Eve in the Garden of Eden.