We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?
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 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, but it is often read as an allegory. Interpretations vary widely as to just what the allegory means, though. Is the poem about the dangers of sexuality? Of heteronormativity? The power of sisterhood? Good and bad systems of economy? Temptation, sin and redemption? The possibility of redemption for "fallen women"? Or maybe all of the above? Fortunately, you can read the poem without having to choose an interpretation. It makes heavy use of alliteration, musical rhyme, and mouth-watering detail. It's the sort of poem that benefits from being read aloud.
Those with an interest in art history might be familiar with the Rossetti name in a different context, because of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). Christina was not a member of this all-male group, but two of her brothers were founding members. Some of her earliest work was published in the PRB's periodical, and her work shares some traits (such as attention to sensual detail) with the art of the PRB. Dante Gabriel Rossetti provided illustrations for the poem.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Feminist Fantasy: 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 snow fall.