Expansive Poetry & Music Online Classic Reprint

Christina Rossetti's

Goblin Market


Christina Rossetti, 19th Century Victorian Poet

Christina Rossetti, English poet, was born in London in 1830, and went quite a different direction from the pre-Raphaelite movement centered on her brother Dante Rossetti. Goblin Market, published when she was thirty-two, and described as a children's poem, is startling for its evocativeness and sensuality, though it does not in any way purport to depict sexuality. It is instead a cautionary tale about the intense delights and dangers of, and a means of escaping forbidden fruits, whatever they might be.

It is also a poem of wonderful rhythm and music aloud. It might be best to download (save as text) and read later, as it is 545 lines long.

Goblin Market

by Christina Rossetti

                    Morning and evening

               Maids heard the goblins cry:
              'Come buy our orchard fruits,
              Come buy, come buy:
              Apples and quinces,
              Lemons and oranges,
              Plump unpecked cherries,
              Melons and raspberries,
              Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
              Swart-headed mulberries,
              Wild free-born cranberries,
              Crab-apples, dewberries,
              Pine-apples, blackberries,
              Apricots, strawberries; -- 
              All ripe together
              In summer weather --
              Morns that pass by,
              Fair eves that fly;
              Come buy, come buy:
              Our grapes fresh from the vine,
              Pomegranates full and fine,
              Dates and sharp bullaces,
              Rare pears and greengages,
              Damsons and bilberries,
              Taste them and try:
              Currants and gooseberries,
              Bright-fire-like barberries,
              Figs to fill your mouth,
              Citrons from the South,
              Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
              Come buy, come buy.'
              Evening by evening
              Among the brookside rushes,
              Laura bowed her head to hear,
              Lizzie veiled her blushes:
              Crouching close together
              In the cooling weather,
              With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
              With tingling cheeks and finger tips.
              'Lie close,' Laura said,
              Pricking up her golden head:
              'We must not look at goblin men,
              We must not buy their fruits:
              Who knows upon what soil they fed
              Their hungry thirsty roots?'
              'Come buy,' call the goblins 
              Hobbling down the glen.
              'Oh,' cried Lizzie, 'Laura, Laura,
              You should not peep at goblin men.'
              Lizzie covered up her eyes,
              Covered close lest they should look;
              Laura reared her glossy head,
              And whispered like the restless brook:
              'Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
              Down the glen tramp little men.
              One hauls a basket,
              One bears a plate,
              One lugs a golden dish
              Of many pounds weight.
              How fair the vine must grow
              Whose grapes are so luscious;
              How warm the wind must blow
              Through those fruit bushes.'
              'No,' said Lizzie: 'No, no, no;
              Their offers should not charm us,
              Their evil gifts would harm us.'
              She thrust a dimpled finger
              In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
              Curious Laura chose to linger
              Wondering at each merchant man.
              One had a cat's face,
              One whisked a tail,
              One tramped at a rat's pace,
              One crawled like a snail,
              One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
              One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.
              She heard a voice like voice of doves
              Cooing all together:
              They sounded kind and full of loves
              In the pleasant weather. 
              Laura stretched her gleaming neck
              Like a rush-imbedded swan,
              Like a lily from the beck,
              Like a moonlit poplar branch,
              Like a vessel at the launch
              When its last restraint is gone.
              Backwards up the mossy glen
              Turned and trooped the goblin men,
              With their shrill repeated cry,
              'Come buy, come buy.'
              When they reached where Laura was
              They stood stock still upon the moss,
              Leering at each other,
              Brother with queer brother;
              Signaling each other,
              Brother with sly brother.
              One set his basket down,
              One reared his plate;
              One began to weave a crown
              Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
              (Men sell not such in any town);
              One heaved the golden weight
              Of dish and fruit to offer her:
              'Come buy, come buy,' was still their cry.
              Laura stared but did not stir,
              Longed but had no money:
              The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
              In tones as smooth as honey,
              The cat-faced purr'd,
              The rat-paced spoke a word
              Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
              One parrot-voiced and jolly
              Cried 'Pretty Goblin' still for 'Pretty Polly;' --
              One whistled like a bird.
              But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
              'Good folk, I have no coin; 
              To take were to purloin;
              I have no copper in my purse,
              I have no silver either,
              And all my gold is on the furze
              That shakes in windy weather
              Above the rusty heather.'
              'You have much gold upon your head,'
              They answered all together:
              'Buy from us with a golden curl.'
              She clipped a precious golden lock,
              She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
              Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
              Sweeter than honey from the rock,
              Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
              Clearer than water flowed that juice; 
              She never tasted such before,
              How should it cloy with length of use?
              She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
              Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
              She sucked until her lips were sore;
              Then flung the emptied rinds away
              But gathered up one kernel stone,
              And knew not was it night or day
              As she turned home alone.
              Lizzie met her at the gate
              Full of wise upbraidings:
              'Dear, you should not stay so late,
              Twilight is not good for maidens;
              Should not loiter in the glen
              In the haunts of goblin men.
              Do you not remember Jeanie,
              How she met them in the moonlight,
              Took their fruits both choice and many,
              Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
              Plucked from bowers
              Where summer ripens at all hours?
              But ever in the noonlight
              She pined and pined away;
              Sought them by night and day,
              Found them no more but dwindled and grew grey;
              Then fell with the first snow,
              While to this day no grass will grow
              Where she lies low:
              I planted daisies there a year ago
              That never blow. 
              You should not loiter so.'
              'Nay, hush,' said Laura:
              'Nay, hush, my sister:
              I ate and ate my fill,
              Yet my mouth waters still;
              Tomorrow night I will 
              Buy more:' and kissed her:
              'Have done with sorrow;
              I'll bring you plums tomorrow
              Fresh on their mother twigs,
              Cherries worth getting;
              You cannot think what figs
              My teeth have met in,
              What melons icy-cold
              Piled on a dish of gold
              Too huge for me to hold,
              What peaches with a velvet nap,
              Pellucid grapes without one seed:
              Odorous indeed must be the mead
              Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink
              With lilies at the brink,
              And sugar-sweet their sap.'
              Golden head by golden head,
              Like two pigeons in one nest
              Folded in each other's wings,
              They lay down in their curtained bed:
              Like two blossoms on one stem,
              Like two flakes of new-fall'n snow,
              Like two wands of ivory
              Tipped with gold for awful kings.
              Moon and stars gazed in at them,
              Wind sang to them lullaby,
              Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
              Not a bat flapped to and fro
              Round their nest:
              Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
              Locked together in one nest.
              Early in the morning
              When the first cock crowed his warning,
              Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
              Laura rose with Lizzie:
              Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
              Aired and set to rights the house,
              Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
              Cake for dainty mouths to eat,
              Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
              Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
              Talked as modest maidens should:
              Lizzie with an open heart,
              Laura in an absent dream,
              One content, one sick in part;
              One warbling for the mere bright day's delight,
              One longing for the night.
              At length slow evening came:
              They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
              Lizzie most placid in her look,
              Laura most like a leaping flame.
              They drew the gurgling water from its deep;
              Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
              Then turning homewards said: 'The sunset flushes
              Those furthest loftiest crags;
              Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
              No wilfull squirrel wags,
              The beasts and birds are fast asleep.'
              But Laura loitered still among the rushes
              And said the bank was steep.
              And said the hour was early still,
              The dew not fall'n, the wind not chill:
              Listening ever, but not catching
              The customary cry,
              'Come buy, come buy,'
              With its iterated jingle 
              Of sugar-baited words:
              Not for all her watching
              Once discerning even one goblin
              Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
              Let alone the herds
              That used to tramp along the glen,
              In groups or single, 
              Of brisk fruit-merchant men.
              Till Lizzie urged, 'O, Laura, come;
              I hear the fruit-call but I dare not look:
              You should not loiter long at this brook:
              Come with me home.
              The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
              Each glowworm winks her spark,
              Let us go home before the night grows dark:
              For clouds may gather
              Though this is summer weather,
              Put out the lights and drench us through;
              Then if we lost our way what should we do?'
              Laura turned cold as stone:
              To find her sister heard that cry alone;
              That goblin cry,
              'Come buy our fruits, come buy.'
              Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
              Must she no more such succous pasture find,
              Gone deaf and blind?
              Her tree of life drooped from the root:
              She said not one word in her heart's sore ache;
              But peering thro' the dimness, nought discerning,
              Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
              So crept to bed, and lay
              Silent till Lizzie slept;
              Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
              And gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept
              As if her heart would break.
              Day after day, night after night,
              Laura kept watch in vain
              In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
              She never caught again the goblin cry:
              'Come buy, come buy;' -- 
              She never spied the goblin men
              Hawking their fruits along the glen:
              But when the noon waxed bright
              Her hair grew thin and grey;
              She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
              To swift decay and burn
              Her fire away.
              One day remembering her kernel-stone
              She set it by a wall that faced the south;
              Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
              Watched for a waxing shoot,
              But there came none;
              It never saw the sun,
              It never felt the trickling moisture run:
              While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
              She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
              False waves in desert drouth
              With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
              And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.
              She no more swept the house,
              Tended the fowls or cows,
              Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
              Brought water from the brook:
              But sat down listless in the chimney nook
              And would not eat.
              Tender Lizzie could not bear
              To watch her sister's cankerous care
              Yet not to share.
              She night and morning 
              Caught the goblins' cry:
              'Come buy our orchard fruits,
              Come buy, come buy:' --
              Beside the brook, along the glen,
              She heard the tramp of goblin men,
              The voice and stir
              Por Laura could not hear;
              Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
              But feared to pay too dear.
              She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
              Who should have been a bride;
              But who for joys brides hope to have
              Fell sick and died
              In her gay prime,
              In earliest Winter time,
              With the first glazing time
              With the first snow-fall of crisp Winter time.
              Till Laura dwindling
              Seemed knocking at death's door:
              Then Lizzie weighed no more
              Better and worse;
              But put a silver penny in her purse,
              Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
              At twilight, halted by the brook;
              And for the first time in her life
              Began to listen and look.
              Laughed very goblin 
              When they spied her peeping:
              Came towards her hobbling,
              Flying, running, leaping,
              Puffing and blowing,
              Chuckling, clapping, crowing, 
              Clucking and gobbling,
              Mopping and mowing,
              Full of airs and graces,
              Pulling wry faces,
              Demure grimaces,
              Cat-like and rat-like,
              Ratel- and wombat-like,
              Snail-paced in a hurry,
              Parrot-voiced and whistler,
              Helter skelter, hurry skurry,
              Chattering like magpies,
              Fluttering like pigeons,
              Gliding like fishes, -- 
              Hugged her and kissed her:
              Squeezed and caressed her:
              Stretched up their dishes,
              Panniers, and plates:
              'Look at our apples
              Russet and dun,
              Bob at our cherries,
              Bite at our peaches,
              Citrons and dates,
              Grapes for the asking,
              Pears red with basking
              Out in the sun,
              Plums on their twigs;
              Pluck them and suck them,
              Pomegranates, figs.'--
              'Good folk,' said Lizzie,
              Mindful of Jeanie:
              'Give me much and many:'--
              Held out her apron,
              Tossed them her penny.
              'Nay, take a seat with us,
              Honour and eat with us,'
              They answered grinning:
              'Our feast is but beginning.
              Night yet is early,
              Warm and dew-early,
              Wakeful and starry:
              Such fruits as these 
              No man can carry:
              Half their bloom would fly,
              Half their dew would dry,
              Half their flavour would pass by.
              Sit down and feast with us,
              Be welcome guest with us,
              Cheer you and rest with us.' ---
              'Thank you,' said Lizzie: 'But one waits
              At home alone for me:
              So without further parleying,
              If you will not sell me any 
              Of your fruits though much and many,
              Give me back my silver penny
              I tossed you for a fee.' ---
              They began to scratch their pates,
              No longer wagging, purring,
              But visibly demurring,
              Grunting and snarling.
              One called her proud,
              Cross-grained, uncivil;
              Their tones waxed loud,
              Their looks were evil.
              Lashing their tails
              They trod and hustled her,
              Elbowed and jostled her,
              Clawed with their nails,
              Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
              Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
              Twitched her hair out by the roots,
              Stamped upon her tender feet,
              Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
              Against her mouth to make her eat.
              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. 
              In a smart, ache, tingle,
              Lizzie went her way;
              Knew not was it night or day;
              Sprang up a bank, tore thro' the furze,
              Threaded copse and dingle,
              And heard her penny jingle 
              Bouncing in her purse,--
              Its bounce was music to her ear.
              She ran and ran
              As if she feared some goblin man
              Dogged her with gibe or curse
              Or something worse:
              But not one goblin skurried after,
              Nor was she pricked by fear;
              The kind heart made her windy-paced
              That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
              And inward laughter.
              She cried 'Laura,' up the garden,
              'Did you miss me?
              Come and kiss me.
              Never mind my bruises,
              Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
              Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
              Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
              Eat me, drink me, love me;
              Laura, make much of me;
              For your sake I have braved the glen
              And had to do with goblin merchant men.'
              Laura started from her chair,
              Flung her arms up in the air,
              Clutched her hair:
              "Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
              For my sake the fruit forbidden?
              Must your light like mine be hidden,
              Your young life like mine be wasted,
              Undone in mine undoing
              And ruined in my ruin,
              Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?'--
              She clung about her sister,
              Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
              Tears once again
              Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
              Dropping like rain
              After long sultry drouth;
              Shaking with anguish, fear, and pain,
              She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.
              Her lips began to scorch,
              That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
              She loathed the feast:
              Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
              Rent all her robe, and wrung
              Her hands in lamentable haste,
              And beat her breast.
              Her locks streamed like the torch
              Borne by a racer at full speed,
              Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
              Or like an eagle when she stems the light
              Straight toward the sun,
              Or like a caged thing freed,
              Or like a flying flag when armies run.
              Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
              Met the fire smouldering there
              And overbore its lesser flame;
              She gorged on bitterness without a name:
              Ah! fool, to choose such part
              Of soul-consuming care!
              Sense failed in the mortal strife:
              Like the watch-tower of a town
              Which an earthquake shatters down,
              Like a lightning-stricken mast,
              Like a wind-uprooted tree
              Spun about,
              Like a foam-topped waterspout
              Cast down headlong in the sea,
              She fell at last;
              Pleasure past and anguish past,
              Is it death or is it life?
              Life out of death.
              That night long Lizzie watched by her,
              Counted her pulse's flagging stir,
              Felt for her breath,
              Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
              With tears and fanning leaves:
              But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
              And early reapers plodded to the place
              Of golden sheaves,
              And dew-wet grass
              Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
              And new buds with new day 
              Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
              Laura awoke as from a dream,
              Laughed in the innocent old way,
              Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
              Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey,
              Her breath was sweet as May 
              And light danced in her eyes.
              Days, weeks, months, years
              Afterwards, when both were wives
              With children of their own;
              Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
              Their lives bound up in tender lives;
              Laura would call the little ones
              And tell them of her early prime,
              Those pleasant days long gone
              Of not-returning time:
              Would talk about the haunted glen,
              The wicked, quaint, fruit-merchant men,
              Their fruits like honey to the throat
              But poison in the blood;
              (Men sell not such in any town:)
              Would tell them how her sister stood
              In deadly peril to do her good,
              And win the fiery antidote:
              Then joining hands to little hands
              Would bid them cling together,
              'For there is no friend like a sister
              In calm or stormy weather;
              To cheer one on the tedious way,
              To fetch one if one goes astray,
              To lift one if one totters down,
              To strengthen whilst one stands.'

Christina Rossetti April 27, 1859 original title "A Peep at the Goblins" -- Inscribed to M.F.R.

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