The Poem

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

“Goblin Market” is Christina Rossetti’s most famous poem. In its first stanza, goblins offer fruit for sale. Goblins are traditionally evil creatures who entice human beings into evil. In stanza 2, the sisters Laura and Lizzie hear goblin cries. Lizzie warns Laura that they are not to look, but Laura does not pay heed. Lizzie, however, puts a finger in each ear, perhaps as much to drown out her sister’s overtures as to stifle the goblin voices. To be noted here is Lizzie’s refusal to allow herself to be overcome carnally. Laura, on the other hand, allows herself to be filled with sight and sound. Lizzie flees; Laura “lingers.”

In successive stanzas, the goblins offer their fruit directly to Laura, who responds that she is without money. To this the goblins reply that a golden lock of her hair will be payment enough. Laura yields, and she sucks the fruit insatiably. Lizzie cautions Laura on her sister’s return, reminding her of Jeanie, who had pined away after eating the goblin fruit. Laura tells of her own eating, which has not diminished her.

There follows an eloquent stanza depictive of the sisters’ oneness, but on the morrow, it is clear that their fates are diverging. Lizzie is happy; Laura longs for more of the goblin fruit, but to no avail. Now, only Lizzie can hear the goblin cries. Day after day, Laura languishes, her health declining, her work neglected.

Lizzie, filled with sorrow for Laura, would like to...

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Forms and Devices

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

It is the extraordinary capacity of Christina Rossetti to exact profundity from what seems a children’s fantasy. It is a trademark of all her poetry, the combining of the simple and the mystical, the ability to see beyond the ordinary.

At its outset, Rossetti entices readers with the hypnotic rhythms of the goblin imperatives, seducing readers into participating in Laura’s fall through their reiterated appeal to the senses. This is a poem meant to be read aloud. Though it does not have regularity of rhyme scheme, it has a sensory dimension—not only in the images it presents, but also in the multiple use of s sounds in the opening two stanzas, along with the symmetry within lines through the pervasive use of paired dactyls:

Pine-apples, blackberriesApricots, strawberries (lines 1314).

Rhythms then shift into rhyming iambs midway,

In summer weather,—All ripe together (lines 1516),

lending a mesmerizing tone that reinforces the temptation motif represented in the goblins’ wares.

Frequently Rossetti will employ rhetorical parallelism, with syntax extended for several lines to suggest comparison and contrast between the two sisters through repetition of prepositional phrasing:

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Sisters Laura and Lizzie live in the country, but the specific time and place are not important to the story. The mythical action could occur...

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Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Goblin Market appeals to a wide variety of readers. Many enjoy the strange setting, the haunting tone, the appealing characters, or...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Readers or parents may have concerns about Goblin Markets susceptibility to religious and sexual interpretations. Such concern is...

(The entire section is 147 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. The goblin men's fruit is extremely enticing, but eating it causes serious problems. What might the goblin men's fruit represent to...

(The entire section is 297 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Is Goblin Market just a simple story, as Christina Rossetti once suggested, or does it have deeper levels of meaning? Can all the...

(The entire section is 221 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Charles, Edna Kotin. Christina Rossetti: Critical Perspectives, 1862-1982. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 1985. This...

(The entire section is 131 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

Bellas, Ralph A. Christina Rossetti. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A straightforward look at both Rossetti’s life and works. Suitable for beginning students of Rossetti. Useful notes, bibliography and index.

Campbell, Elizabeth. “Of Mothers and Merchants: Female Economics in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market.” In Victorian Studies: A Journal of the Humanities, Arts, and Sciences 33, no. 3 (Spring, 1990): 393-410. A scholarly journal article that deals with the treatment of capitalism and economics in “Goblin Market” and their relationship to Victorian women.

Morrill, David F. “‘Twilight Is Not Good for Maidens’: Uncle Polidori and the Psychodynamics of Vampirism in Goblin Market.” Victorian Poetry 28, no. 1 (Spring, 1990): 1-16. A fascinating journal article that deals with the theme of vampirism in “Goblin Market,” tracing its origins back to John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre.”

Spivack, Charlotte. “ ‘The Hidden World Below’: Victorian Women Fantasy Poets.” In The Poetic Fantastic: Studies in an Evolving Genre, edited by Patrick Murphy and Vernon Ross Hyles. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1989. This book article examines the theme of the fantastic as it was used by Victorian women poets (such as Christina Rossetti) and makes specific reference to “Goblin Market.” Among other things, it applies the theories of Joseph Campbell to the genre.

Thompson, Deborah Ann. “Anorexia as a Lived Trope: Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market.” In Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 24, nos. 3/4 (Summer/Fall, 1991): 89-106. This scholarly journal article presents an unusual, yet exceptionally well-written interpretation of “Goblin Market,” by viewing anorexia nervosa as the underlying theme of the poem.