(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Goblin Market,” Rossetti’s most anthologized and discussed poem, is also, at 567 lines, one of her longest. A narrative poem (a rarity for Rossetti), it tells the story of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, and their close brush with a sinister group of goblin merchants. The first of the twenty-nine irregular stanzas simply records the cries of the goblin men for someone to buy their magical fruits. Lizzie warns Laura not to succumb to their temptation, reminding her of the fate of their friend Jennie who, tasting the goblin fruit, wasted away and died. Laura ignores the warning and buys the enchanted fruit with a lock of her golden hair.

The enchantment of the fruit is one of addiction: Having tasted it, the victim desires nothing but another taste, which the goblins refuse. Like Jennie, Laura pines away for the fruit, dwindling and turning gray. This image of the dangers of temptation is typical of Rossetti’s later religious poetry, though here the spiritual import is embedded in allegory. When Lizzie realizes her sister is dying, she goes to the goblins, wears them down with heroic resistance to their temptation, and returns to Laura, not having tasted the fruit, but having its juice and pulp smeared all over her face by the struggle. When Laura kisses her sister, she tastes the juice, which removes the curse of the goblin fruit and restores Laura’s youth and health. While the poem is not overtly Christian in the way that Rossetti’s later...

(The entire section is 467 words.)