Poetry

Goblin Market

Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem “Goblin Market” is her most famous poem and most controversial work. While Rossetti publicly claimed that the poem was meant for children and had no sexual undertones, its abundant images of supple fruit and carnal pleasure challenge this claim. The poem is told in the style of a fable and features two chaste sisters, Laura and Lizzie, who live alone in the countryside. Each night, the sisters and the other maids who live in their town hear the sounds of goblins singing “Come buy, come buy.” These goblin men sell tempting, exotic fruit to unsuspecting young girls. Lizzie warns Laura never to buy their goods, but Laura cannot resist temptation. Laura’s weakness has repercussions and only Lizzie has the power to save her sister. The poem’s eerie, sing-song tone and repetition lulls the audience into the trance-like state of one infected by the goblin’s fruit. The most popular critical interpretation of this poem views it as a Christian allegory for resisting temptation. However, this poem has been interpreted in many other ways. Some critics have read it as a portrayal of the Victorian world’s anxiety with a growing consumerist culture; others have seen it as a parable about the dangers of defying Victorian social codes that regulated female sexuality. Rossetti dedicated the poem to her older sister who had saved her from running away with a man who turned out to be married, a history that supports reading the poem as a reinforcement of the social codes that policed the poet’s society. Despite its scandalous connotations, Christian allusions, and implied commentary on Victorian society, “Goblin Market” overtly concerns one theme overall: nothing is more powerful than sisterly love.

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