English 549 Commentary 2 on Rossetti's Goblin Market second try
With more focus on poet's use of the medium.
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, 1859
Colin Leath 750-1000 words.
The use of imagery, versification, sound patterning, and sound effects in Goblin Market
The GM lacks a regular base meter. Line lengths range from three to ten syllables, with most lines being less than eight syllables. There is widespread anaphora and use of repeated phrasing/ refrains. Most lines are end-stopped. There is dialog within the poem, and this dialog has an inconsistent tone. Some seems very juvenile: line 54: "look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie," and "'No,' said Lizzie:'No, no, no; ...' She thrust a dimpled finger in each ear, shut eyes and ran:" Other dialog places them as at least adolescent, "Twilight is not good for maidens," and conversation with the goblin men tends to have more elevated diction. I guess then, it is the child-like remarks that especially stand out against what we might expect for two young women who appear to live alone.
The first stanza of the poem, well, most lines about fruits begin with stresses, and as I'm having trouble scanning them, seem almost solid stress "Bloom down cheeked peaches" or tend toward dactylic dimeter. The refrain "Come buy, come buy" tends toward iambic dimeter. In fact, it appears it would take quite a lot of practice to decide how to stress the poem when giving a thoughtful reading of it. Lines of similar meters are often paired together, as a sort of couplet "figs to fill your mouth / citrons from the south."
Taking a break from that... Another interesting refrain is "(Men sell not such in any town)." The goblin men are quite diverse, as might suit a children's tale.
Neck & head imagery is especially compelling "Laura stretched her gleaming neck," etc..
They are golden-haired: (e.g., Golden head by golden head).
A flagrant sound effect (among many) "Beside the brook, along the glen,/she heard the tramp of goblin men," (regular iambic tetrameter).
There is a meaning clue in line 314 "But who for joys brides hope to have Fell sick and died." A fairly clear statement that the fruit has something to do with nuptial bliss.
The goblins do have a sort of characteristic symphonic accompaniment (compare 329- 360 with poem opening). Which goes with "Helter skelter, hurry skurry" ... a whole diversity of sounds meters etc. for a diverse bunch of goblins, who even glide like fishes. They are more forward this time "Squeezed and caressed her:"
And another tantalizing clue: "Such fruits as these/ No man can carry..."
The recurrent anaphora imagery occurs again: "White and golden Lizzie stood... Like a beacon left alone"
Lizzie does seem to be above it all: "But laughed in heart to feel the drip" and not long after the goblin men are called people! The goblins leave, not leaving root or stone or shoot.
Both Lizzie's and Laura's experiences leave them knowing not was it night or day.
The return, and "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." is taken by some as being a Jesus echo. The ending "goblin merchant men" in line 474, shows how Rossetti is using irregularity for a purpose. We might expect "goblin men." "Merchant" adds one foot to line 474 over the preceding line, and forces the reader to slow, which seems appropriate as a way to close a stanza.
And Laura no longer likes the fruit juice! Magic! And she goes wild "as one possessed." And again Rossetti goes off on the head / hair imagery anaphora: "Her locks streamed like a torch... Or like a flying flag when armies run." Goblin Market, deep down, resembles a long shampoo commercial.
And we get an inverse of the earlier Lizzie imagery: "Like the watch-tower of a town..." vs. "Like a royal virgin town..." And continuing with the Christ parallel: "Is it death or is it life? ... Life out of death."
More hair imagery: "Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey."
And another clue(s) "Their fruits like honey to the throat / but poison to the blood... The fiery antidote."
And ending on a somewhat unoptimistic note, "To cheer one on the tedious way..."
Some of the imagery is quite sexual... And there is a suggestion that the goblins offer sex of a sort... but it's as if they only want to take a girl's virginity, perhaps, and after that they are not interested in her... so that does not quite fit. Fruit juice / stone could be sperm, or, rather root / stone / shoot could be all those things husbands bring but goblins don't. In addition, it is easy for me to get off on the imagery of these young maidens, (as maiden-on-maiden love can get me going, and Rossetti plays close to that), and how she picked up on the hair / glossy head / stretching neck as being such an aspect of alluring female imagery... For some reason the glossy hair takes me right back to some of the most intense love in my life: pre-4th grade on the playground... The stretching neck doesn't take me to a particular memory, but seems so apt, yet not emphasized in things I've read before or chosen to focus on myself as alluring... as if I never very consciously paid attention to the neck... and yet part of me was very focused on it.
The poem seems to be a playing and mixing of images and symbols, all very powerful. The poem is sort of framed as a children's tale. And as pornography. And as sermon. And as feminist / realist rant. And as shampoo commercial. I expect Rossetti was working with all angles, and that she and we relish in the shimmering of meaning that these sometimes conflicting images & tones give her poem.