The goblin market




This is an obvious one image for "Goblin Market." After all, the poem is about eating fruit and then wanting for more. The poem opens with a list of 29 different kinds of fruit. The level of detail in the poem is often overwhelming, and it's hard to take in all at once. So what's all the fruit doing in the poem? Is it just about temptation? Or does it do something else? That's part of the fun of the poem – it keeps you guessing.

  • Lines 9: The goblins use a metaphor to describe the fuzz on their fresh peaches that makes the peaches seem like human faces, with "cheeks."
  • Lines 43-45: In these lines, Laura talks about the "hungry thirsty roots" of the fruit trees feeding on some unknown soil.
  • Line 406-407: Here, the intense imagery of the goblins trying to force-feed their fruits to Lizzie underscores the violence of the scene.
  • Lines 415-417: Lizzie is compared to an "orange-tree" being pollinated by "wasp and bee[s]" through an elaborate simile. Does this sound kind of sexual to you? It is probably supposed to.
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During the 1860s, Rossetti worked as a volunteer at a home that supported women who were coming out of prostitution. In addition, she was very much influenced by the establishment of Anglican Sisterhoods. Throughout Goblin Market, Rossetti speaks of the shared bond that exists between Laura and Lizzie. She describes them as ‘two pigeons in one nest’ and ‘two blossoms on one stem’ (lines 185, 188) and concludes the poem with the reflection that ‘There is no friend like a sister’ (line 560). Many common factors also see goblin Market as an exploration of female sexuality.

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Imagery and symbolism

'Come buy’ – the Goblins’ opening words echo a famous invitation in the Bible from God to his people. However, unlike the freedom of the biblical offer, the goblins are seeking to entrap those who accept their food.


The image of fire occurs repeatedly throughout ‘Goblin Market’ and is used in various ways to depict life, passion, lust, life and health:

  • Amongst the list of fruits with which Rossetti uses to open the poem, she includes ‘Bright-fire-like barberries’ (line 27). Amongst the long overwhelming list, it is easy to miss the use of the term ‘fire-like’. Its implicit inclusion could indicate the danger hidden by the fruit’s ripe look and appealing and texture
  • After her first taste of the goblin fruit, Laura returns to the brook ‘most like a leaping flame’ (line 218). Compared to Lizzie who accompanied her in a state ‘most placid in her look’ (216), Laura’s passion is shown to be unhealthy and dangerous
  • Laura falls into a swift decline when she is no longer able to enjoy life after tasting the goblin fruits, 'to swift decay and burn her fire away'. Here, the extinguishing of her fire indicates the diminishment of her life. Immediately turning grey (line 277) and worn, she loses interest in the tasks she used to enjoy.
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Imagery and symbolism

Fire continued

Laura reclaims her life and reignites her spirituality by clinging to and kissing Lizzie. As a result: 'swift fire spread through her veins'.

At the end of the poem, we are reminded that Lizzie’s intention was to ‘win the fiery antidote’ for her sister (line 557). An antidote is a medicine which counteracts the effect of poison or disease. The fact that this antidote was ‘fiery’ indicates its potential to destroy as well as to heal.

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Imagery and symbolism

Roots and shoots

  • Lizzie warns Laura not to buy the fruits of the goblin men and reflects, ‘Who knows upon what soil they fed / Their hungry thirsty roots?’ (lines 44-5)
  • After Laura tasted the goblin fruit, Rossetti writes that ‘Her tree of life drooped from the root’ (line 260)
  • As a warning, Lizzie reminds Laura of Jeanie who, after enjoying the goblin’s fruits, ‘pined and pined away’ (line 154) until she died. Her recognition that no grass grows on her grave suggests decay and lack of fruitfulness
  • Laura sets her hopes on a kernel stone and hopes it will take root and produce more delicious fruit for her to taste. When it fails, she declines further into depression and listlessness.
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Imagery and symbolism

Rossetti describes Lizzie’s act of redemption through metaphor and simile:

  • Like a lily in a flood - A lily has traditionally been considered as a symbol of purity and innocence. A flood is an overwhelming deluge of water that is both destructive and indiscriminate. By describing Lizzie as a ‘lily in a flood’, Rossetti suggests that she is able to retain her purity and innocence even under pressure and the force of destruction
  • A rock of blue-veined stone - Whilst linking Lizzie to a rock indicates her strength which cannot easily be broken, the allusion to her as a ‘blue-veined stone’ suggests both her intrinsic delicacy and her status as a royal child (of God). The phrase ‘blue blood’ indicates noble birth or descent. By combining this image with the image of a rock, which is used throughout the New Testament to speak of Jesus, an understanding of Lizzie as noble and royal is sustained
  • A beacon left alone - A beacon is a conspicuous object which gives out light to guide and assist those people struggling in the darkness. Lizzie can be described as a beacon in that, as Christ who is described repeatedly as a ‘light’ throughout the New Testament, she demonstrates a pure and holy way of living, ‘alone’ and apart from the evil that exists in the world
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Rhyme, form and meter


The meter and rhyme scheme are irregular in "Goblin Market." The poem generally follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, but not always. In fact, sometimes there's a long gap between a word and its rhyme, and sometimes there are many lines in a row with the same rhyming syllable at the end (like lines 134-136).

For the most part, the poem is written in loose iambic tetrameters. The iambic foot is a rising metre and often speeds up the pace at which a poem is read. By composing such a long poem in this form, Rossetti emphasises the fast pace of the story she is telling and the passion that it involves. 

  • Much of the language associated with the goblins is written in rhythmic dactylic dimeter, which adds to the effect of  their charm which attracts the girls.
  • Lizzie interrupts the lilting beat when she declares, ‘No, no, no’ and tells Laura not to be charmed by the fruit they offer since it is evil and harmful (lines 64-66). The repetition of her ‘No’ emphasises her firmness and draws attention to the dangers of allowing oneself to listen lazily to anything that passes.
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Rhyme, form and meter


The irregular yet insistent rhyme carries the poem forwards. The poem contains numerous couplets which occur especially in its lists. This increases the speed at which the poem is read and creates a rushed and breathless feel. For instance, by framing the goblin’s cry using couplets and triplets, Rossetti emphasises its speed and draws attention to its overwhelming nature as it overpowers listeners with variety and quantity of description.

Throughout the poem, rhyme is used consistently to determine the pace and to link certain words together. For instance, the alternate repetition of the words ‘brother’ and ‘other’ (lines 93-96) draws attention to the otherness of the goblins. Their brotherhood shares little in common to the sisterhood that Lizzie and Laura enjoy. It is ‘other’ in the sense that it is not based in any kind of love but in mutual distrust and competition.

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