The theme for this month’s Poetry Project is Classic Poetry, not my favorite, as I sometimes find it too dense and convoluted (this probably has something to do with a lousy high school English lit teacher). Then I thought about R.I. P VII and got all excited. There are several options, Poe being the most obvious, then I remembered a poem I heard someone read it aloud at an All Hallow’s Eve party a long time ago.
by Christina RossettiMorning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:“Come buy our orchard fruits,Come buy, come buy:Apples and quinces,Lemons and oranges,Plump unpeck’d cherries,Melons and raspberries,Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,Swart-headed mulberries,Wild free-born cranberries,Crab-apples, dewberries,Pine-apples, blackberries,Apricots, strawberries;—All ripe togetherIn summer weather,—
Goblin Market is Rossetti’s most familiar poem. It tells a story that is similar to many folk and fairy tales. Someone comes in contact with fabulous beings or crosses into a mythical land and, because they eat food, or dance, or take a lover, fall ill or are kidnapped. Two sisters spy on Goblin merchants, who gather each evening and call out the wonderful qualities of their produce. Both sisters know that buying and eating this fruit will have deadly consequences but Laura is so enticed that she can’t help herself.
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisk’d a tail,
One tramp’d at a rat’s pace,
One crawl’d like a snail,
One like a wombat prowl’d 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.
Of course, we all know where curiosity leads. It falls on Lizzie to save Laura and she does so by enduring great suffering. The images in this poem are very rich, very sensual, some are intensely sexual, but I won’t give any more away.
Rossetti used irregular meter and an uneven rhyme pattern in Goblin Market, building excitement and dread. Critics tend to see this poem as an expression of growing feminism against Victorian social norms and of Rossetti’s possible sexual orientation. There are elements of temptation, seduction, and even the “fall from paradise”. I prefer to see it as very dark enchantment, and the lengths to which one sister will go to save another. You can read the entire poem here, thanks to The Poetry Foundation. Please come back and tell me your thoughts. And join the Poetry Project in October for Halloween Poetry!