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Goblin Market is a poem by Christina Rossetti that involves underlying sexualised intentions of the Goblins as they lure young maidens to buy and taste their fruits.
About the Poet
Christina Rossetti was one of the most well-known Victorian Poets. Her poetry is often marked by intense emotions and symbolism.
Morning and evening Maids heard the goblins cry: “Come buy our orchard fruits, Come buy, come buy:
The poem begins by describing the “Goblin Market”, and how the Goblins cry out to the maids, ie. women that are present in the market. The Goblins insist these women pay a visit to their stalls and consider purchasing some of the orchard fruits
However, the Goblins only try to appeal to the women as if it is out of desperation. The Goblins perform this repellent act every morning and evening. The maids “heard” the Goblins cry, but they yet chose to not appraise their invitation. Due to this ignorance, the Goblins persist their shriek.
Apples and quinces, Lemons and oranges, Plump unpeck’d cherries, Melons and raspberries, Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches, Swart-headed mulberries, Wild free-born cranberries, Crab-apples, dewberries, Pine-apples, blackberries, Apricots, strawberries;—
These next lines provide the readers with an itemised presentation of the “fruits” that are offered by the Goblins. The names of these fruits, however, appear to be an attempt to attract the maids through seduction as the fruits carry sexualised labels. This looks like a lamentable endeavour of debauching.
“Plump unpeck’d cherries”, “Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches”, “Swart-headed mulberries”, etc are possibly dissimulated. The list starting with “Apples” can be an allegory towards ‘the first sin’ where Eve eats the forbidden fruit and disobeys God.
All ripe together In summer weather,— Morns that pass by, Fair eves that fly;
The fruits that were mentioned previously are now ripened all together. This is disbelieving as certain fruits that were mentioned are seasonal fruits and cannot share the same time to be ripened. The “ripening” can therefore mean the eagerness of these Goblins towards depravity.
The Goblins abide their temptations as time passes by reiterating their impassion towards these maids.
Come buy, come buy: Our grapes fresh from the vine, Pomegranates full and fine, Dates and sharp bullaces, Rare pears and greengages, Damsons and bilberries, Taste them and try: Currants and gooseberries, Bright-fire-like barberries, Figs to fill your mouth, Citrons from the South, Sweet to tongue and sound to eye; Come buy, come buy.”
The descriptions used in these lines again reveal the titillation of the Goblins. It shows masculinity characterised into these fruits’ descriptions. The Goblins want the maids to taste these fruits which suggests the underlying sensual pleasures desired by the Goblins.
The Goblins assure the ladies the savoriness of their fruits that are also a pleasing sight. The Goblins once again insist the ladies come and buy their exotic fruits.
Evening by evening Among the brookside rushes, Laura bow’d her head to hear, Lizzie veil’d her blushes:
The next stanza begins by “Evening by evening” which tells the time when the events that are mentioned further take place. It also says that these events only occur in the evenings and among the brookside rushes.
Laura and Lizzie are two characters that the poem is focused on. Laura, as the poem suggests, bowed her head to hear what the Goblins had to say. In the previous stanza, the Goblins were wailing to be noticed. They wanted the maids to visit their stalls and buy their delectable fruits that possibly had some perverted meaning.
In this stanza, Laura bows her head to hear the Goblins and Lizzie yielded her blushes. This verse certainly adds to our deduction of the fruits being metaphors for sexual activities. Lizzie blushes when she hears these Goblins shriek their amativeness.
Crouching close together In the cooling weather, With clasping arms and cautioning lips, With tingling cheeks and finger tips.
Both Laura and Lizzie seem to be crouching close to each other in the cold weather, grasping each other’s hands tightly with “cautioning lips”. These lines suddenly change the mood of the poem. Laura was inclined to hear what the Goblins had to say and now they are holding each other tightly while crouching. Laura and Lizzie appear to be frightened.
“tingling cheeks and finger tips”, this verse definitively portrays their fright as they tremble. It can be linked to “cautioning lips” as one of them might be gesturing to be quiet by placing her trembling fingers over the lips.
“Lie close,” Laura said, Pricking up her golden head: “We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”
In the next lines, Laura asks Lizzie to stay close to her as her golden blonde hair start to prick up, ie. goosebumps/ getting the creeps. Laura continues to warn Lizzie to not look at the Goblin Men and not to buy their fruits.
“Who knows upon what soil they fed their hungry thirsty roots?” This verse suggests the questionable intentions of the Goblins and their roots. They cannot guarantee the Goblins’ purity and therefore its better to avoid any encounters with them, says Laura.
It can also mean their fruits are not known to be pure or up to the mark. Perhaps there were rumours about the false spiel of these Goblins.
Line 46- 47
“Come buy,” call the goblins Hobbling down the glen.
Meanwhile the Goblins continue to howl, asking the young maids to stop by their stalls for fruits in that narrow valley.
“Oh,” cried Lizzie, “Laura, Laura, You should not peep at goblin men.” Lizzie cover’d up her eyes, Cover’d close lest they should look;
In this stanza, now Lizzie warns Laura to not peep at the Goblin men. Laura was preventing Lizzie from looking at those Goblins but now it appears they switched their roles. Lizzie goes on to cover Laura’s eyes to keep her from looking at these Goblins.
It seems that they are both aware about the Goblins and the fact that they must not look at them. Ergo, they try to keep each other from looking over at the Goblins. In a much wider sense, both Laura and Lizzie in fact act like they might be spying on the Goblins. Even though they seem to prevent each other from looking, it is still suspicious by the way they do it.
Laura rear’d her glossy head, And whisper’d like the restless brook: “Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie, Down the glen tramp little men.
Despite Lizzie’s attempts to keep Laura from viewing the Goblins, Laura lifts her head up and takes a look. The sight is amusing to her that makes her restless like a river as she whispers Lizzie’s name, insisting her to look over towards the Goblins.
Line 55 describes Laura’s view of “tramp little men”. The Goblins are little as it is known. Goblins are grotesque creatures that are mentioned in Mythology or Folklore. They are mostly characterised as tricksters, who are often short-tempered, evil and mischievous creatures.
One hauls a basket, One bears a plate, One lugs a golden dish Of many pounds weight.
The glen is filled with tiny little Goblins. As described by Laura, one is dragging a basket, the other one is carrying a plate. While one carries a heavy golden dish that is perhaps more weighted than the Goblin itself.
How fair the vine must grow Whose grapes are so luscious; How warm the wind must blow Through those fruit bushes.”
Laura starts imagining the long vines of the luscious grapes that the Goblins are selling. She wonders the length of these vines and how vast it must grow to produce such juicy grapes.
It looks as if she cannot control her imagination. Laura instantly jumps on another vision, from grape vines to the entire fruit bushes. She wonders the warmth of the wind that passes by these bushes and maybe wants the wind to caress her.
This happens so rapidly as if she is under some spell. Laura seems to be captivated by the Goblins and their fruits. The sight that she was avoiding to look at and preventing Lizzie from looking at it, is the same sight she cannot take her eyes off from. The thought of Goblins that frightened her in the previous stanzas seems to excite her now.
“No,” said Lizzie, “No, no, no; Their offers should not charm us, Their evil gifts would harm us.”
Lizzie is repulsed by this thought that Laura presented. She tries again to prevent Laura from falling under their spells. She reiterates the word “no” four times which emphasises the feeling of disgust that Lizzie is facing.
Lizzie explains to Laura to not be charmed by their offers because they are evil. The closer they get to the Goblins, the more harm it will cast them. Lizzie is very persistent about this and tries to talk her out of it.
She thrust a dimpled finger In each ear, shut eyes and ran: Curious Laura chose to linger Wondering at each merchant man.
Despite insisting to Laura and trying to talk her out of it, Laura appears to be as beguiled by the sight as one can be. That being the case, Lizzie decides to leave the sight, leaving Laura behind.
Lizzie is so frightened and repelled that she decides to run off. In fact she shuts her eyes to not catch a sight of the Goblins, blocks her hearing and takes off senselessly.
On the other hand, Laura chooses to stay, she lingers around pondering over each Goblin as they serve as merchant men in the glen.
One had a cat’s face, One whisk’d a tail, One tramp’d at a rat’s pace, One crawl’d like a snail, One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry, One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.
The scenario is described through Laura’s eyes, after Lizzie runs away this is what Laura is focused on. Laura observes the Goblins and scrutinies their appearances. As per the descriptions, one carries a face similar to a cat, one shakes its tail, one is tramping where the rats are, one is crawling like a snail. These descriptions are not much appealing to the eye, yet Laura seems to be captivated by it.
It further describes one as a furry wombat and one as a skurry ratel. These Goblins appear to be slouching around without giving much thought to their appearances.
She heard a voice like voice of doves Cooing all together: They sounded kind and full of loves In the pleasant weather.
Despite their appearances, Laura finds the Goblins to be full of love. Their voices to her are like doves cooing together. It brings her peace and warmth. While she wonders about them, the weather seems to be pleasant and calming.
It is safe to assume that it’s their sound that attracts Laura. It is calming and soothing like the doves, who are symbols of peace and love. The description of their appearances being much similar to predatory animals, their voice is contrasting these traits.
Laura stretch’d her gleaming neck Like a rush-imbedded swan, Like a lily from the beck, Like a moonlit poplar branch, Like a vessel at the launch When its last restraint is gone.
This stanza starts with descriptions of Laura stretching her shining neck which is described as a rush-imbedded swan in the beginning. The poet compares it to nature for the beauty of it and also for greater emphasis.
The descriptions are more insightful into Laura’s curiosity and her carefreeness compared to her cautious behaviour at start. It is compared to a lily and a moonlit branch of a Poplar tree to describe the gleaming quality that Laura’s neck shares with these.
The poet then compares Laura’s curiosity to a “vessel” at the launch when its last restraint is gone. It is similar to Laura’s emotions as her self-restraint is gone and she is giving into the peculiarity of the situation and her natural impulse.
Backwards up the mossy glen Turn’d and troop’d the goblin men, With their shrill repeated cry, “Come buy, come buy.”
The goblins now head back up the mossy street which the poet describes as trooping. This links the Goblins to a military or a battlefield with certainty of death as they shrill repeatedly to ignite the ladies to come buy their fruits.
This certainly shows the contrast as the poet uses “shrill” to describe the Goblins who were compared to doves earlier. This tells that the Goblin Men are not as appealing as Laura sees them. However, even after seeing their true nature, Laura still appears to be tempted by them and their fruits.
When they reach’d where Laura was They stood stock still upon the moss, Leering at each other, Brother with queer brother; Signalling each other, Brother with sly brother.
The Goblins have now noticed Laura hiding and approached her. They reached where she hid, and stood still upon the moss, glaring at each other as if in a questionable and confused manner.
They signal each other in being sly, ie, in a deceiving manner. They also look at each other in a queer way, which means odd or strange way. They seem to be pleased by their attempt of seducing Laura despite their grotesque appearances.
One set his basket down, One rear’d his plate; One began to weave a crown Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown (Men sell not such in any town); One heav’d the golden weight Of dish and fruit to offer her: “Come buy, come buy,” was still their cry.
The Goblins immediately try to impress Laura by abandoning their stillness. One sets down his basket, one brings his plate, while one weaves a crown for her made of tendrils, leaves and brown nuts. They start doing things for her in such a way that no other men in town do.
They try to put in efforts to not disappoint Laura. One lifts the weighted Golden dish and fruits to offer her. This shows their eagerness to please Laura as they still cry “come buy” while doing so. It creates an eerie tone in the atmosphere.
Laura stared but did not stir, Long’d but had no money: The whisk-tail’d merchant bade her taste In tones as smooth as honey,
The poem gets more frightening from here, as the Goblins try to tempt Laura by their charm. Laura desires to buy and taste their fruits but she manages to hold herself back as she has no money to buy these fruits. She stares at the fruits but does not engage with the Goblins into buying them.
Yet the Goblins try to make her taste the fruits despite her not possessing any money to buy it. One of the Goblins’ has a tail in the shape of a whisk which might signify the devil’s tail. This Goblin commands Laura to taste the fruit in a sweet and smooth voice which is as smooth as honey.
The cat-faced purr’d, The rat-faced spoke a word Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard; One parrot-voiced and jolly Cried “Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly;”— One whistled like a bird.
These descriptions are not new to the readers as they were mentioned in the earlier stanzas. The cat faced Goblin purred, the rat faced welcomed Laura, the snail paced was heard too.
One parrot voiced Goblin and was very excited and cried pretty Goblin and one whistled like a bird. All the Goblins have animalistic characteristics which might show the lack of humanity they possess.
But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste: “Good folk, I have no coin; To take were to purloin: I have no copper in my purse, I have no silver either, And all my gold is on the furze That shakes in windy weather Above the rusty heather.”
In this stanza, Laura who has a sweet-tooth speaks with rapidity that she has no coin and she thinks if she takes a fruit it will be like stealing. Her purse does not carry any copper or silver.
She further mentions that all the gold she has is on the “furze”. Furze is a small shrub with yellow flowers. This statement by Laura implies the love Laura has for nature that she considers these shrubs as gold. It can also mean she believes nature is the provider and therefore refers all her gold is on the furze that shakes in the windy weather above the rusty heather.
“You have much gold upon your head,” They answer’d all together: “Buy from us with a golden curl.”
The Goblins again try to lure her into buying the fruits as they say her hair is the same colour of gold and therefore she can give them a curl of her golden hair and buy their fruits. The Goblin all together explains this to her by saying there’s plenty of gold upon your head.
She clipp’d a precious golden lock, She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl, Then suck’d their fruit globes fair or red:
Laura is now giving in and cutting a lock of her golden hair which is described as “precious”. She drops a tear right after cutting her hair which is described as more rare than “pearl”. This might imply that Laura is giving away her purity and virginity to the Goblins. The tear she sheds can be out of guilt of doing such an act.
Right after shedding a tear, she sucked their fruits till it changed colour. There is an underlying sexualised meaning in this sentence. The image is quite disturbing.
Sweeter than honey from the rock, Stronger than man-rejoicing wine, Clearer than water flow’d that juice; She never tasted such before,
The fruits are sweeter than honey and stronger than man rejoicing wine. It is also said to be clearer than the water. She has never tasted such a thing before.
There are various interpretations of this poem, some say it has sexual context and some say it is regarding drug abuse. I think this is more on the sexual side and the juices of the fruit might as well be the bodily fluids that are released when humans are aroused.
How should it cloy with length of use? She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
Laura then questions herself if she’ll ever get sick of this taste. After tasting the fruits for a certain length, will she be disgusted by its taste due to reiteration of the activity?
The next lines answer this question, ie, she won’t get tired of it. She keeps sucking the fruits more and more, fruits of the unknown orchard.
She suck’d until her lips were sore; Then flung the emptied rinds away But gather’d up one kernel stone, And knew not was it night or day As she turn’d home alone.
Laura has lost her sense of control and she seems to be addicted to these fruits. She sucks the fruits till her lips are sore and discards all the unnecessary parts like the peels, etc. But she picks up one kernel stone. These lines describe her finishing the fruit.
Due to her excitement, she has lost the sense of time as well. She is not aware if it’s day or night and since Lizzie ran away, she is all by herself walking her way to her home. There is no farewell mentioned in the poem, she just parts with the Goblins. Her feelings at this point are completely ambiguous.
Lizzie met her at the gate Full of wise upbraidings: “Dear, you should not stay so late, Twilight is not good for maidens; Should not loiter in the glen In the haunts of goblin men.
As Laura went home, Lizzie was waiting for her at the gate and she started scolding Laura with her wiseness about how a young lady shall not stay this late at this hour that too in the glen filled with Goblin Men.
Laura is already aware about these things as she was warning Lizzie the same in the beginning of the poem but yet Laura finds herself on the other end.
Do you not remember Jeanie, How she met them in the moonlight, Took their gifts both choice and many, Ate their fruits and wore their flowers Pluck’d from bowers Where summer ripens at all hours? But ever in the noonlight She pined and pined away; Sought them by night and day, Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey; Then fell with the first snow, While to this day no grass will grow Where she lies low:
In these next lines it is finally revealed what the Goblins do to the maidens or the aftereffects of tasting their fruit. This is revealed by Lizzie as she tells the story of Jeanie who tragically suffered and eventually died.
Lizzie starts by asking if Laura remembers Jeanie who met the Goblins at moonlight and accepted their offered fruits and flowers that she wore. But at noon, she was heartbroken as she looked for them everywhere all day and night but found them nowhere.
Her hair turned grey whilst she was still young and she passed away. Even after her death, there is no grass over her grave. This draws us a picture that tasting their fruits brings sort of a curse and is possibly the fate of Laura as well.
I planted daisies there a year ago That never blow. You should not loiter so.”
Lizzie continues that near Jeanie’s grave, Lizzie planted some flowers which never bloomed even after a year had passed. Therefore she warns Laura to not loiter in the glen but little does she know, Laura has already done the deed and her lessons are of no use to her.
This overall implies that the purity of the maidens is stolen by the Goblins, leaving them “spoiled”. In the Victorian Era, the fate of the women who committed such an act explicitly before marriage were allowed to marry and were looked down upon. These women could never experience motherhood as well and therefore they would go through severe psychological stress which explains the hair growing grey at such a young age.
“Nay, hush,” said Laura: “Nay, hush, my sister: I ate and ate my fill, Yet my mouth waters still; To-morrow night I will Buy more;” and kiss’d her:
Laura hushes her sister Lizzie as she reveals to her that she ate all she wanted and yet she craves for more. She tells Lizzie that tomorrow night she’ll buy some more of their fruits and she kisses her sister in a reassuring way.
“Have done with sorrow; I’ll bring you plums to-morrow Fresh on their mother twigs, Cherries worth getting; You cannot think what figs My teeth have met in, What melons icy-cold Piled on a dish of gold Too huge for me to hold, What peaches with a velvet nap, Pellucid grapes without one seed: Odorous indeed must be the mead Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink With lilies at the brink, And sugar-sweet their sap.”
Laura then promises Lizzie that she’ll bring her some of the fruits and she describes the fruits in such a way that is identical to the Goblins. It’s as if she is tempting her sister as the Goblins tempted her to taste these fruits. Laura is completely mesmerised by these fruits and wants to share her amusement with her sister.
Line 184- 191
Golden head by golden head, Like two pigeons in one nest Folded in each other’s wings, They lay down in their curtain’d bed: Like two blossoms on one stem, Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow, Like two wands of ivory Tipp’d with gold for awful kings.
Laura and Lizzie appear to be sleeping together as their golden heads meet each other like two pigeons in one nest with folded wings. They sleep on a curtained bed like two blossoms in one stem or two flakes of snow, two wands of ivory tipped with gold for awful kings.
This is a strong imagery that shows the calm and peace in which these girls lay down to sleep. It’s so pure and innocent but alarming at the same time. It can be the calmness before the storm.
Moon and stars gaz’d in at them, Wind sang to them lullaby, Lumbering owls forbore to fly, Not a bat flapp’d to and fro Round their rest: Cheek to cheek and breast to breast Lock’d together in one nest.
The imagery continues describing how the two sisters sleep close to each other. Locked together in one nest.
Early in the morning When the first cock crow’d his warning, Neat like bees, as sweet and busy, Laura rose with Lizzie:
The crowing of the cock can be a biblical reference. IN the early morning, Laura woke up with Lizzie.
Fetch’d in honey, milk’d the cows, Air’d and set to rights the house, Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat, Cakes for dainty mouths to eat, Next churn’d butter, whipp’d up cream, Fed their poultry, sat and sew’d; Talk’d as modest maidens should: Lizzie with an open heart, Laura in an absent dream, One content, one sick in part; One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight, One longing for the night.
These lines show the mundane activities that the girls perform in the morning. Fetching honey, milking cows, kneading dough for cakes, churning butter and cream, feeding their poultry and sewing. Talking as modest maidens should yet Laura is absent minded and not living the moment as Lizzie is. Lizzie is content while Laura is sick, yearning for the night.
It might suggest being under some substance and the aftereffects of it. It can be the fruits that’s making Laura dizzy.
At length slow evening came: They went with pitchers to the reedy brook; Lizzie most placid in her look, Laura most like a leaping flame.
Here they have switched their moods. Lizzie who was content in the morning is now placid as the evening approaches. Laura is as excited as one can be which is described as a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep; Lizzie pluck’d purple and rich golden flags, Then turning homeward said: “The sunset flushes Those furthest loftiest crags; Come, Laura, not another maiden lags. No wilful squirrel wags, The beasts and birds are fast asleep.” But Laura loiter’d still among the rushes And said the bank was steep.
Laura and Lizzie are gurgling water from the brook. Lizzie is hasty with her work and wants to return home as the sun is setting and the surroundings are getting darker. Lizzie explains how everyone sleeps fast and therefore they should head home too.
But Laura still chooses to loiter among the rushes and waits for the Goblins to buy their fruits.
And said the hour was early still The dew not fall’n, the wind not chill; Listening ever, but not catching The customary cry, “Come buy, come buy,” With its iterated jingle Of sugar-baited words: Not for all her watching Once discerning even one goblin Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling; Let alone the herds That used to tramp along the glen, In groups or single, Of brisk fruit-merchant men.
This stanza reveals the disappearance of the Goblins. Laura waits for them but the hour is still, there is no sign of these Goblins and no sound of their customary cry of “come buy” that lured Laura that night.
The call is described as sugar-baited words as they tempted Laura to fall into their trap. The glen that echoed their offer is empty with not even a single goblin slouching around.
Till Lizzie urged, “O Laura, come; I hear the fruit-call but I dare not look: You should not loiter longer at this brook: Come with me home.
Lizzie urges Laura to join her return home as she can hear the Goblins’ fruit-call. This is strange because in the earlier stanza Laura searches for the Goblins but fails to find them and cannot hear any sugar-baited calls either.
Lizzie, however, is able to listen to their calls. It’s as if Laura is not aware of the Goblins’ existence and already tasted their fruits, she is now not able to see them anymore. IT was perhaps a one time thing.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc, Each glowworm winks her spark, Let us get home before the night grows dark: For clouds may gather Though this is summer weather, Put out the lights and drench us through; Then if we lost our way what should we do?”
Lizzie insists Laura return home with her before it gets too dark for them to see the street to prevent them from losing their way home.
Laura turn’d cold as stone To find her sister heard that cry alone, That goblin cry, “Come buy our fruits, come buy.” Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit? Must she no more such succous pasture find, Gone deaf and blind?
When Laura understands that her sister, Lizzie can hear their calls but she cannot, she freezes as cold as a stone. She questions herself if she can no longer buy the fruits that she loved? or has she lost her mind? She even questions if she has gone deaf or blind.
Her tree of life droop’d from the root: She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache; But peering thro’ the dimness, nought discerning, Trudg’d home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
These lines describe what Laura is going through. She feels lifeless as if her tree of life dropped from the root. She uttered no word in her sadness. She does not verbalise her sadness but it is there and it is shown by her pitcher dripping all the way which might look like she is crying or has lost the strength and awareness of her actions due to her heartbreak.
So crept to bed, and lay Silent till Lizzie slept; Then sat up in a passionate yearning, And gnash’d her teeth for baulk’d desire, and wept As if her heart would break.
Laura lays on her bed as Lizzie sleeps soundly. These lines describe the passionate yearning of Laura and her actions imply her addiction towards the fruits. She cries as if her heart is broken but it also shows desperation and addiction.
Day after day, night after night, Laura kept watch in vain In sullen silence of exceeding pain. She never caught again the goblin cry: “Come buy, come buy;”— She never spied the goblin men Hawking their fruits along the glen:
Laura suffered in vain day after day. She silenced her exceeding pain and never was able to find the goblins again or hear their cry. She never spied on them and the glen again.
But when the noon wax’d bright Her hair grew thin and grey; She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn To swift decay and burn Her fire away.
These lines describe Laura going through the same thing that Jeanie went through. Her hair turned grey as the noon approached and she dwindled as the moon decayed and burned her fire away. Laura is suffering through immense pain that is slowly eating her way which has also resulted into turning her hair grey.
One day remembering her kernel-stone She set it by a wall that faced the south; Dew’d it with tears, hoped for a root, Watch’d for a waxing shoot, But there came none; It never saw the sun, It never felt the trickling moisture run: While with sunk eyes and faded mouth She dream’d of melons, as a traveller sees False waves in desert drouth With shade of leaf-crown’d trees, And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.
Laura one day recalls a kernel-stone that she placed by a wall while she was gulping down the fruits offered by the Goblin. She tries to sow that seed and waits for a plant to grow, but it never grows. The plant never sees the sun. She waters the plant with her tears. This shows her diligence towards the fruits that she craves.
She dreams of melons to lift her gloomy mood which is compared to the false waves a thirsty traveller sees in the desert. It shows how she has lost all the excitement in her life and everyday is just as mundane as it can be. It has also changed her appearance with sunken eyes and faded mouth. Her desperation is very visible and painful.
She no more swept the house, Tended the fowls or cows, Fetch’d honey, kneaded cakes of wheat, Brought water from the brook: But sat down listless in the chimney-nook And would not eat.
Laura has changed in other ways as well, she does not sweep the house any more or any activity that she and Lizzie used to do early in the morning. Instead she now refuses to eat and sits down listless in the chimney-nook. Her inability to eat is perhaps showing her declining mental health.
Tender Lizzie could not bear To watch her sister’s cankerous care Yet not to share.
Lizzie does not like that her sister is suffering and not sharing her problems with her. This tells us the pure heart that Lizzie possesses.
She night and morning Caught the goblins’ cry: “Come buy our orchard fruits, Come buy, come buy;”—
Lizzie meanwhile still can listen to the Goblins cry to buy their fruits.
Beside the brook, along the glen, She heard the tramp of goblin men, The yoke and stir Poor Laura could not hear; Long’d to buy fruit to comfort her, But fear’d to pay too dear.
Lizzie wants to buy the fruits for Laura who cannot hear the Goblins cry. She wants to do whatever she can for her sister and therefore she decides to go and give her some fruit.
She thought of Jeanie in her grave, Who should have been a bride; But who for joys brides hope to have Fell sick and died In her gay prime, In earliest winter time With the first glazing rime, With the first snow-fall of crisp winter time.
She thinks of Jeanie who lays in her grave in her prime. She could’ve been a bride if she didn’t eat the fruits. This is what Lizzie fears. She wants to help her sister but is in a dilemma.
Till Laura dwindling Seem’d knocking at Death’s door: Then Lizzie weigh’d no more Better and worse; But put a silver penny in her purse, Kiss’d Laura, cross’d the heath with clumps of furze At twilight, halted by the brook: And for the first time in her life Began to listen and look.
Lizzie saw her sister’s suffering and how she was succumbing as if knocking at death’s door. Lizzie therefore decides to go visit the Goblins, for better or worse. She carried a silver coin with her for the exchange and kissed Laura as she parted.
At twilight, she stopped by the brook and saw what she always avoided. She looked and listened to the Goblin Men.
Laugh’d every goblin When they spied her peeping: Came towards her hobbling, Flying, running, leaping, Puffing and blowing, Chuckling, clapping, crowing, Clucking and gobbling, Mopping and mowing, Full of airs and graces, Pulling wry faces, Demure grimaces, Cat-like and rat-like, Ratel- and wombat-like, Snail-paced in a hurry, Parrot-voiced and whistler, Helter skelter, hurry skurry, Chattering like magpies, Fluttering like pigeons, Gliding like fishes,—
This stanza describes how the Goblins noticed Lizzie spying on them and how they approached her the same way they approached Laura. The description of the Goblins is exactly how Laura describes them earlier in the poem.
Hugg’d her and kiss’d her: Squeez’d and caress’d her: Stretch’d up their dishes, Panniers, and plates: “Look at our apples Russet and dun, Bob at our cherries, Bite at our peaches, Citrons and dates, Grapes for the asking, Pears red with basking Out in the sun, Plums on their twigs; Pluck them and suck them, Pomegranates, figs.”—
The Goblins are ever excited to see Lizzie and they greet her by hugging, kissing and squeezing her, caressing her. They Juxtaposed the fruits in front of her in dishes and described the deliciousness of their fruits to Lizzie while tempting her to grab and eat them.
“Good folk,” said Lizzie, Mindful of Jeanie: “Give me much and many: — Held out her apron, Toss’d them her penny. “Nay, take a seat with us, Honour and eat with us,” They answer’d grinning: “Our feast is but beginning.
In this stanza we see Lizzie is trying to buy the fruits by maintaining her distance as she recalls Jeanie’s fate. She hands out her apron and asks for much and many fruits while tossing them her silver coin.
The Goblins however insist Lizzie to take a seat with us and enjoy eating the fruits with them. They say they have just begun the feast so she might as well join them.
Night yet is early, Warm and dew-pearly, Wakeful and starry: Such fruits as these No man can carry: Half their bloom would fly, Half their dew would dry, Half their flavour would pass by. Sit down and feast with us, Be welcome guest with us, Cheer you and rest with us.”—
Here the Goblins describe how their fruits can’t be taken away like this. They compare their fruits to the night, warm, dew-pearly, wakeful and starry. No man can carry these fruits as they won’t be as delicious elsewhere.
Half of their bloom will go away. Or their dew will dry out, their flavours will pass away. Therefore they invite her again to join their feast by being their guest and to rest with them.
“Thank you,” said Lizzie: “But one waits At home alone for me: So without further parleying, If you will not sell me any Of your fruits though much and many, Give me back my silver penny I toss’d you for a fee.”—
But Lizzie is persistent and firm with her motives. She tells the Goblins that she has someone waiting for her at home so they better not waste her time and give her the fruits worth that penny or return the penny to her.
They began to scratch their pates, No longer wagging, purring, But visibly demurring, Grunting and snarling. One call’d her proud, Cross-grain’d, uncivil; Their tones wax’d loud, Their looks were evil. Lashing their tails They trod and hustled her, Elbow’d and jostled her, Claw’d with their nails, Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking, Tore her gown and soil’d her stocking, Twitch’d her hair out by the roots, Stamp’d upon her tender feet, Held her hands and squeez’d their fruits Against her mouth to make her eat.
Towards the end of this stanza, the Goblins that were excited and caressing Lizzie at start now appear to be physically harassing her. At start they throw out negative comments and name calling and show their evil looks and intentions. They lash their tails that might symbolise the devil.
They hustle her and claw her with their nails, tearing her gown and soiling her stockings. They force her to taste these fruits by holding her and squeezing the fruits into her mouth.
In a much wider sense, this can imply that the Goblins raped Lizzie. As Laura was easily tempted by these Goblins, Lizzie was curt and therefore Goblins revealing their evilness forced her by assaulting her to make her eat their fruits.
White and golden Lizzie stood, Like a lily in a flood,— Like a rock of blue-vein’d stone Lash’d by tides obstreperously,— Like a beacon left alone In a hoary roaring sea, Sending up a golden fire,— Like a fruit-crown’d orange-tree White with blossoms honey-sweet Sore beset by wasp and bee,— Like a royal virgin town Topp’d with gilded dome and spire Close beleaguer’d by a fleet Mad to tug her standard down.
This stanza describes how strong and fiercely Lizzie fights against the Goblins. Even after being assaulted she has not lost her innocence and virtue which is symbolised by her white and golden colour. She is described as a lily in a flood, which shows survival.
In the next lines she is compared to a rock lashed by the tides, which tells that even if she is forced she is still firm in her thoughts and actions. The next descriptions also show her qualities that maintain her innocence.
She is described as a royal virgin town which can also signify the physical innocence of her, she was a virgin who was forced by the goblins. The last line tells us that she is not going to quit against these Goblins.
One may lead a horse to water, Twenty cannot make him drink. Though the goblins cuff’d and caught her, Coax’d and fought her, Bullied and besought her, Scratch’d her, pinch’d her black as ink, Kick’d and knock’d her, Maul’d and mock’d her, Lizzie utter’d not a word; Would not open lip from lip Lest they should cram a mouthful in:
The first two lines of this stanza accurately portray Lizzie’s situation. Even if they force her, they cannot change who she is. In the next lines, the goblins do everything from bullying to hitting, mocking all the things that will make her trigger but Lizzie does not speak a word.
But laugh’d in heart to feel the drip Of juice that syrupp’d all her face, And lodg’d in dimples of her chin, And streak’d her neck which quaked like curd.
Lizzie laughs in her heart even though her face drips the juices of the fruits. Deep down she knows she has won already. It’s as if she is laughing at the goblins and their silly attempts to make her tempt which are obviously not working.
At last the evil people, Worn out by her resistance, Flung back her penny, kick’d their fruit Along whichever road they took, Not leaving root or stone or shoot; Some writh’d into the ground, Some div’d into the brook With ring and ripple, Some scudded on the gale without a sound, Some vanish’d in the distance.
Lizzie’s resistance makes the Goblins weary and tired and they give up. Lizzie already knew she won the battle and therefore she was laughing in her heart but now they goblins know it too and they quit harassing Lizzie and throw her penney back at her while they part their ways by disappearing, kicking their fruits alongside. They accepted their defeat and walked away, knowing Lizzie wouldn’t give in.
In a smart, ache, tingle, Lizzie went her way; Knew not was it night or day; Sprang up the bank, tore thro’ the furze, Threaded copse and dingle, And heard her penny jingle Bouncing in her purse,— Its bounce was music to her ear.
Lizzie heads back home unaware of the time while bouncing her purse that jingles the coin. This sound is like music to her ears as it is victorious.
She ran and ran As if she fear’d some goblin man Dogg’d her with gibe or curse Or something worse: But not one goblin scurried after, Nor was she prick’d by fear; The kind heart made her windy-paced That urged her home quite out of breath with haste And inward laughter.
Even after winning she is still conscious about the goblins and therefore is hasty as she runs her way home. She is not worried or scared of the goblins but just happy. It also shows the purity of her heart and reveals the strong personality that Lizzie possesses.
She cried, “Laura,” up the garden, “Did you miss me? Come and kiss me. Never mind my bruises, Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you, Goblin pulp and goblin dew. 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.”
As soon as Lizzie gets home, she instantaneously visits Laura before treating her bruises. She asks her to hug and kiss her and ignore the bruises. She insists Laura to lick the juices off her face that the goblins squeezed by force.
She tells her she carries the goblin pulp and dew and therefore Laura must eat her and drink her and love her to obtain those goblin elements. She says so as Laura is the reason she went to the goblins and made a deal with the goblins so Laura can taste these juices again. It might have some underlying sexual context.
Laura started from her chair, Flung her arms up in the air, Clutch’d her hair: “Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted For my sake the fruit forbidden? Must your light like mine be hidden, Your young life like mine be wasted, Undone in mine undoing, And ruin’d in my ruin, Thirsty, canker’d, goblin-ridden?”—
Laura is genuinely concerned for Lizzie now as she does not want her sister to have the same fate as she does. She therefore clutches her hair in worry asking Lizzie if she tasted the forbidden fruit for her sake. Would her life go as wasted as Laura’s? This thought makes Laura more concerned over Lizzie’s future.
She clung about her sister, Kiss’d and kiss’d and kiss’d her: Tears once again Refresh’d her shrunken eyes, Dropping like rain After long sultry drouth; Shaking with aguish fear, and pain, She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth.
Laura cannot resist it and kisses her sister as tears roll down her eyes. She is finally letting out her emotions which she was hiding for so long. Her shrunken eyes refresh as the tears drop by like rain.
She is shaking with mixed feelings as she kisses her sister as if with a hungry mouth. As if kissing her will make her sickness go away.
Her lips began to scorch, That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
Wormwood is a type of poison that can be the substance that was being abused.
She loath’d the feast: Writhing as one possess’d she leap’d and sung, Rent all her robe, and wrung Her hands in lamentable haste, And beat her breast.
Laura is physically acting as if she is getting cured. Her actions are unclear and ambiguous in nature.
Her locks stream’d like the torch 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, Or like a flying flag when armies run.
It’s as if her senses are getting heightened as her hair stands up and she is feeling intense emotions. It’s the juices that make her act this way. It can be due to her addiction and finally being able to taste the fruits again makes her act this way.
Swift fire spread through her veins, knock’d at her heart, Met the fire smouldering there And overbore its lesser flame; She gorged on bitterness without a name: Ah! fool, to choose such part Of soul-consuming care!
The narrator seems to be scolding Laura for drinking the juices. But the juices seem to cancel out the negative effects that the fruits had before. Maybe the fruits have a negative effect if they are consumed in Goblins presence.
Sense fail’d in the mortal strife: Like the watch-tower of a town Which an earthquake shatters down, Like a lightning-stricken mast, Like a wind-uprooted tree Spun about, Like a foam-topp’d waterspout Cast down headlong in the sea, She fell at last; Pleasure past and anguish past, Is it death or is it life?
All these intensified feelings and emotions make Laura fall past pleasure and anguish. It is uncertain if she fell down after being cured or was it too much for her.
Is it death or is it Life? The narration seems to be done by a goblin due to its mocking tone. BUt it is unclear what happens to Laura.
Life out of death. That night long Lizzie watch’d by her, Counted her pulse’s flagging stir, Felt for her breath, Held water to her lips, and cool’d her face With tears and fanning leaves:
Laura survived her inner battle. It is Life out of death. Lizzie took care of her all night long, checked her pulse and gave her water in her sleep. She performs her duties as a good sister.
But when the first birds chirp’d about their eaves, And early reapers plodded to the place Of golden sheaves, And dew-wet grass Bow’d in the morning winds so brisk to pass, And new buds with new day Open’d of cup-like lilies on the stream, Laura awoke as from a dream, Laugh’d in the innocent old way, Hugg’d Lizzie but not twice or thrice; Her gleaming locks show’d not one thread of grey, Her breath was sweet as May And light danced in her eyes.
Laura is back to her original state in the morning. She has fully recovered from her sickness or addiction and appreciates Lizzie’s efforts to save her. Its as if she woke up from a dream and laughed it away.
Laura’s hair grew back to its golden colour and her breath was sweet as well. Her eyes sparkled as she was lively again.
Days, weeks, months, years Afterwards, when both were wives With children of their own;
This stanza now takes us in the future where both Lizzie and Laura are married and have children of their own.
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 Of not-returning time:
Both of them still have this fear in their heart and now their children’s life depends on them therefore Laura gathers the little ones and warns them about the dangers of goblin men. She tells them to enjoy their youth as it wont come back once it’s passed away.
Would talk about the haunted glen, The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men, Their fruits like honey to the throat But poison in the blood; (Men sell not such in any town):
Laura tells them the past and the way the goblins tempted her. She wants to warn the kids to stay away from these goblins if they ever encounter them.
Would tell them how her sister stood In deadly peril to do her good, And win the fiery antidote:
Laura also praises her sister for saving her life and finding the antidote to the poisoning that was faced by Laura.
Then joining hands to little hands 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, To lift one if one totters down, To strengthen whilst one stands.”
The poem closes with Laura joining hands to the little ones and explaining to them the importance of family and sisterhood. No matter what circumstances, they should all stick together and help each other out like Laura and Lizzie fought the battle in the past. The moral of telling the kids the story is to fight for each other and never give up on each other.
Although the poem might seem to be about sexualised encounters or addiction, the main message of the poem is sisterhood and family.