Christina Rossetti's gothic fantasy poem 'The Goblin Market', like her brother Dante Rossetti's 'Newborn Death', is a flirtation with death. Seduction in these poems is that space of time 'before resentment reconcil'd' in which the evilness of the Goblins and their deadly fruit or the terror of death paradoxically arouses in us a queer sense of attraction. This seductiveness leads to a momentary substitution between life and death which the poets play with in their poems, using it to create imaginative spaces. The characters of both poems are seduced by negative power of death, tempted to examine it more closely, to play with it or taste it, and in doing so they are shown to experience life more intimately.

In Dante Rossetti's sonnet he writes

TO-DAY Death seems to me an infant child
Which her worn mother Life upon my knee
Has set to grow my friend and play with me;
If haply so my heart might be beguil'd
To find no terrors in a face so mild, —
If haply so my weary heart might be
Unto the newborn milky eyes of thee,
O Death, before resentment reconcil'd.

Like Lizzie in 'The Goblin Market' the narrator of this poem is tempted to literally 'play' with the ultimate negative signifier: death. It becomes personified in the most harmless and innocent form of a small child. A similar moment occurs in Christina Rossetti's poem when Lizzie has taken her second helping of the Goblins' fruit and after a violent fit where her senses fail her

She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life?

The next stanza begins "Life out of death." In fact the narrative action of 'The Goblin Market' hinges upon Lizzie giving in to her temptation and tasting the fruit. It is after that that the poem's events become more suggestive and its scenes of filial love and violence seduce the reader into nearly projecting onto them ideas of eroticism and rape. Thus validation of life for the reader and the poet comes from poetic flirtation, the moment when we flirt border between life and death (or anything conventionally terrifying). That is why after the fantastic events of 'The Goblin Market' we find right at the end that the sisters' filial bond becomes the mould into which the allegory must fall and thus their story becomes example to their own children that 'Éthere is no friend like a sister': their relationship has been validated and intensified.

Questions

1. What poetic devices does Christina Rossetti use in 'The Goblin Market' to draw the reader into the narrative?

2. The characters Lizzie and Laura allegorise their experience with the Goblins in a story which they tell their children which is mentioned at the end of the poem. How might we ourselves allegorize the poem? Does such 'self-allegorizing' problematise any such allegorical interpretation we might wish to fasten on to the poem?

3. Both of the poems' flirtations with death lead their characters to have particularly sensual experiences. In 'Newborn Death', for example, the poet questions whether he would 'drink it [death] in the hollow of thy [death's] hand. What effect does this have on the reader? Is it a sort of glorification of death?

4. Where do we situate these works in terms of the ideology of the PRB?


Last modified 8 June 2007