The Poem

“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

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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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

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

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Social Sensitivity

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

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Topics for Discussion

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

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

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

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For Further Reference

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

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(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...

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