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Literature / Goblin Market

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"We must not look at goblin men, we must not buy their fruits. Who knows upon what soil they fed, their hungry thirsty roots?"
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Goblin Market is a Narrative Poem by British Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, originally published in 1862. Simply put, it tells the story of a girl who eats some forbidden fruit (sold by "goblin men") and suffers as a result, until her sister comes to her aid. It can be read "straight" as a poetic fairy tale or fantasy narrative (as expressed by William Michael Rossetti, her brother), but it can also be read as an allegory. Allegorical interpretations vary widely, ranging from the power of sisterhood, temptation and redemption, or even feminine sexuality. The poem makes heavy use of alliteration, musical rhyme, and mouth-watering detail. It's the sort of poem that benefits from being read aloud.

The poem debuted in Rossetti's first volume of poems Goblin Market and Other Poems. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, her brother and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, provided illustrations for the poem.

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Goblin Market was adapted into a musical by Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon. Some of the songs can be found on Youtube.

You can read the poem here; this page includes D.G. Rossetti's illustrations.


This poem provides examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Alliteration appears in some parts of the poem, like "They stood stock still upon the moss"
  • Alliterative List: "Chuckling, clapping, crowing".
  • An Aesop: The poem ends with a clear Aesop about sisterhood, but there might be other morals present.
  • Babies Ever After: We don't know anything about the fathers (Marriage isn't the most important relationship here) but the babies are there and it's a happy thing.
  • Bazaar of the Bizarre: A market run by goblins.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: One interpretation of the poem is that it is about the transition from childhood to adulthood.
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  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: If it does, you're not alone. It's pretty common to read the fruit as some kind of sexual metaphor.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The goblin merchants try to force Lizzie to eat their fruit, but she does not consume any of it. She returns, drenched in juice and pulp, to her sister, who eats the pulp and juice. It tastes horrible, but she ultimately recovers.
  • Feminist Fantasy: Another interpretation, or rather, a feminist religious allegory, about a female savior who redeems the fallen.
  • Food Chains: Don't eat the fruit, okay?
  • Food Porn: Did we mention the mouth-watering detail with which Rossetti describes the fruit?
  • Forbidden Fruit: Literally and allegorically, because Laura's consumption of the fruit can be seen as a retelling of the Christian narrative of the fall.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: "For your sake I have braved the glen / And had to do with goblin merchant men."
  • Ill Girl: Jeanie and Laura get sick on the fruit of the goblin men. prompting Lizzie to action to save her.
  • Impossibly Delicious Food: The goblins' fruit is wicked good.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Lizzie's strategy for saving Laura ends up depending on her ability to resist temptation.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: They're little beast-men who tempt maidens at twilight.
  • Rapid Aging: Seemingly what happens to Jeanie and Laura, with loss of vitality and graying hair.
  • Snow Means Death: Jeanie died in winter, during the first snowfall.

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