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6.2: Goblin Market

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  • Christina Rossetti

    Morning and evening
    Maids heard the goblins cry:
    “Come buy our orchard fruits,
    Come buy, come buy:
    Apples and quinces, 5
    Lemons and oranges,
    Plump unpecked cherries,
    Melons and raspberries,
    Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
    Swart-headed mulberries, 10
    Wild free-born cranberries,
    Crab-apples, dewberries,
    Pine-apples, blackberries,
    Apricots, strawberries;—
    All ripe together 15
    In summer weather,—
    Morns that pass by,
    Fair eves that fly;
    Come buy, come buy:
    Our grapes fresh from the vine, 20
    Pomegranates full and fine,
    Dates and sharp bullaces[1],
    Rare pears and greengages,
    [4]Damsons and bilberries,
    Taste them and try: 25
    Currants and gooseberries,
    Bright-fire-like barberries[2],
    Figs to fill your mouth,
    Citrons from the South,
    Sweet to tongue and sound to eye; 30
    Come buy, come buy.”

    Evening by evening
    Among the brookside rushes,
    Laura bowed her head to hear,
    Lizzie veiled her blushes: 35
    Crouching close together
    In the cooling weather,
    With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
    With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
    “Lie close,” Laura said, 40
    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?” 45
    “Come buy,” call the goblins
    Hobbling down the glen.
    “O,” cried Lizzie, “Laura, Laura,
    You should not peep at goblin men.”
    Lizzie covered up her eyes, 50
    Covered close lest they should look;
    Laura reared her glossy head,
    [5]And whispered like the restless brook:
    “Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
    Down the glen tramp little men. 55
    One hauls a basket,
    One bears a plate,
    One lugs a golden dish
    Of many pounds’ weight.
    How fair the vine must grow 60
    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, 65
    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. 70
    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[3] prowled obtuse and furry, 75
    One like a ratel[4] tumbled hurry-scurry.
    She heard a voice like voice of doves
    Cooing all together:
    They sounded kind and full of loves
    In the pleasant weather. 80

    Laura stretched her gleaming neck
    [6]Like a rush-imbedded swan,
    Like a lily from the beck[5],
    Like a moonlit poplar branch,
    Like a vessel at the launch 85
    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.” 90
    When they reached where Laura was
    They stood stock still upon the moss,
    Leering at each other,
    Brother with queer brother;
    Signalling each other, 95
    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 100
    (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, 105
    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 110
    [7]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: 115
    “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 120
    That shakes in windy weather
    Above the rusty heather.”
    “You have much gold upon your head,”
    They answered altogether:
    “Buy from us with a golden curl.” 125
    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[6],
    Stronger than man-rejoicing wine, 130
    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; 135
    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. 140
    [8]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 145
    In the haunts of goblin men.
    Do you not remember Jeanie,
    How she met them in the moonlight,
    Took their gifts both choice and many,
    Ate their fruits and wore their flowers 150
    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, 155
    Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray,
    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 160
    That never blow.
    You should not loiter so.”
    “Nay, hush,” said Laura:
    “Nay, hush, my sister:
    I ate and ate my fill, 165
    Yet my mouth waters still;
    To-morrow night I will
    Buy more,”—and kissed her.
    “Have done with sorrow;
    I’ll bring you plums to-morrow 170
    [9]Fresh on their mother twigs,
    Cherries worth getting;
    You cannot think what figs
    My teeth have met in,
    What melons icy-cold 175
    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 180
    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 185
    Folded in each other’s wings,
    They lay down in their curtained bed:
    Like two blossoms on one stem,
    Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
    Like two wands of ivory 190
    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 195
    Round their rest:
    Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
    Locked together in one nest.
    [10]Early in the morning
    When the first cock crowed his warning, 200
    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, 205
    Cakes 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, 210
    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: 215
    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[7], 220
    Then turning homeward said: “The sunset flushes
    Those furthest loftiest crags;
    Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
    No wilful squirrel wags,
    The beasts and birds are fast asleep.” 225
    But Laura loitered still among the rushes
    And said the bank was steep.
    [11]And said the hour was early still,
    The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
    Listening ever, but not catching 230
    The customary cry,
    “Come buy, come buy,”
    With its iterated jingle
    Of sugar-baited words:
    Not for all her watching 235
    Once discerning even one goblin
    Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
    Let alone the herds
    That used to tramp along the glen,
    In groups or single, 240
    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 longer at this brook:
    Come with me home. 245
    The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
    Each glow-worm winks her spark,
    Let us get home before the night grows dark;
    For clouds may gather
    Though this is summer weather,250
    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, 255
    [12]”Come buy our fruits, come buy.”
    Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
    Must she no more such succous[8] pasture find,
    Gone deaf and blind?
    Her tree of life drooped from the root: 260
    She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
    But peering thro’ the dimness, naught discerning,
    Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
    So crept to bed, and lay
    Silent till Lizzie slept; 265
    Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
    And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
    As if her heart would break.

    Day after day, night after night,
    Laura kept watch in vain, 270
    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: 275
    But when the noon waxed bright
    Her hair grew thin and gray;
    She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
    To swift decay, and burn
    Her fire away. 280

    One day remembering her kernel-stone
    She set it by a wall that faced the south;
    Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
    [13]Watched for a waxing shoot,
    But there came none; 285
    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 290
    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, 295
    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, 300
    Yet not to share.
    She night and morning
    Caught the goblins’ cry:
    “Come buy our orchard fruits,
    Come buy, come buy.” 305
    Beside the brook, along the glen,
    She heard the tramp of goblin men,
    The voice and stir
    Poor Laura could not hear;
    Longed to buy fruit to comfort her, 310
    But feared to pay too dear.
    [14]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 315
    In her gay prime,
    In earliest winter-time,
    With the first glazing rime,
    With the first snow-fall of crisp winter-time.

    Till Laura, dwindling, 320
    Seemed knocking at Death’s door:
    Then Lizzie weighed[9] no more
    Better and worse,
    But put a silver penny in her purse,
    Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze 325
    At twilight, halted by the brook;
    And for the first time in her life
    Began to listen and look.

    Laughed every goblin
    When they spied her peeping: 330
    Came towards her hobbling,
    Flying, running, leaping,
    Puffing and blowing,
    Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
    Clucking and gobbling, 335
    Mopping and mowing,
    Full of airs and graces,
    Pulling wry faces,
    Demure grimaces,
    [15]Cat-like and rat-like, 340
    Ratel and wombat-like,
    Snail-paced in a hurry,
    Parrot-voiced and whistler,
    Helter-skelter, hurry-skurry,
    Chattering like magpies, 345
    Fluttering like pigeons,
    Gliding like fishes,—
    Hugged her and kissed her;
    Squeezed and caressed her;
    Stretched up their dishes, 350
    Panniers and plates:
    “Look at our apples
    Russet and dun,
    Bob at our cherries,
    Bite at our peaches, 355
    Citrons and dates,
    Grapes for the asking,
    Pears red with basking
    Out in the sun,
    Plums on their twigs; 360
    Pluck them and suck them,
    Pomegranates, figs.”

    “Good folk,” said Lizzie,
    Mindful of Jeanie,
    “Give me much and many”;— 365
    Held out her apron,
    Tossed them her penny.
    “Nay, take a seat with us,
    [16]Honor and eat with us,”
    They answered grinning: 370
    “Our feast is but beginning.
    Night yet is early,
    Warm and dew-pearly,
    Wakeful and starry:
    Such fruits as these 375
    No man can carry;
    Half their bloom would fly,
    Half their dew would dry,
    Half their flavor would pass by.
    Sit down and feast with us, 380
    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, 385
    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, 390
    No longer wagging, purring,
    But visibly demurring,
    Grunting and snarling.
    One called her proud,
    Cross-grained, uncivil; 395
    Their tones waxed loud,
    Their looks were evil.
    Lashing their tails
    [17]They trod and hustled her,
    Elbowed and jostled her, 400
    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, 405
    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 410
    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 415
    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 420
    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, 425
    Bullied and besought her,
    [18]Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
    Kicked and knocked her,
    Mauled and mocked her,
    Lizzie uttered not a word; 430
    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, 435
    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, 440
    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, 445
    Some vanished in the distance.

    In a smart, ache, tingle,
    Lizzie went her way;
    Knew not was it night or day;
    Sprang up the bank, tore through the furze, 450
    Threaded copse and dingle,
    And heard her penny jingle
    Bouncing in her purse,—
    Its bounce was music to her ear.
    She ran and ran 455
    [19]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; 460
    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? 465
    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. 470
    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, 475
    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, 480
    Your young life like mine be wasted,
    Undone in mine undoing
    And ruined in my ruin,
    [20]Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?”
    She clung about her sister, 485
    Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
    Tears once again
    Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
    Dropping like rain
    After long sultry drouth; 490
    Shaking with aguish[10] 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: 495
    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 500
    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, 505
    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: 510
    [21]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, 515
    Like a lightning-stricken mast,
    Like a wind-uprooted tree
    Spun about,
    Like a foam-topped water-spout
    Cast down headlong in the sea, 520
    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, 525
    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, 530
    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 535
    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;
    [22]Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of gray, 540
    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; 545
    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 550
    Of not-returning time:
    Would talk about the haunted glen,
    The wicked, quaint[11] fruit-merchant men,
    Their fruits like honey to the throat,
    But poison in the blood; 555
    (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 560
    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, 565
    To lift one if one totters down,
    To strengthen whilst one stands.”


    1. Bullaces, greengages, damsons are all varieties of plum. A bilberry resembles a blueberry. ↵
    2. Oblong red berries of a barberry shrub. ↵
    3. A burrowing marsupial resembling a small bear. ↵
    4. A nocturnal animal resembling a badger. Pronounced “ray-tell.” ↵
    5. A small brook. ↵
    6. cf. Deuteronomy 32:13, “...suck honey out of the rock.” ↵
    7. Irises. ↵
    8. Succulent.
    9. Considered.
    10. Feverish. ↵
    11. Strange. ↵
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