In Christina Rossetti's poem, "Goblin Market," two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, daily encounter the goblins selling their magical, enticing fruits. Lizzie warns Laura not to succumb to the persuasion of the goblins, who repeatedly offer their fruit to the girls. Lizzie reminds her of the tragic fate of Jeanie, who pined away and eventually died after once tasting the fruit of the fantastical goblin-men and then being destroyed by her unrequited desire for more of their fruit. After impulsive and curious Laura disregards Lizzie's warnings and feasts upon the fruit, Laura begins to suffer the fate of Jeanie: "Her hair grew thin and grey; She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn / To swift decay, and burn / Her fire away" (lines 277-280). Determined to save her sister, Lizzie finds the goblins and tries to buy fruit to take back to her sister. The goblins tell her that she cannot take the fruit with her; instead, she must eat it with them. Lizzie refuses and asks for her silver penny back. The following lines occur when Lizzie courageously endures the goblins' abuse and insults in order to secure the antidote to Laura's potentially fatal condition.

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,--
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously,--
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire,--
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee,--
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tug her standard down.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupped all her face
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.
- -"Goblin Market," lines 408-446

Discussion Questions

1. Comment upon the specific literary devices Rossetti employs in these lines.

2. If one were to evaluate the poem from an allegorical perspective, what would Lizzie symbolize? In contrast, what would the goblins represent?

3. What is the role of fantasy in this poem? Why does Rossetti choose to include such fantastical figures (as the goblin-men) in this poem? Does the fantastic nature of the poem detract from the strength and relevance of its message?


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Last modified 28 April 2003