Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bow'd her head to hear,
Lizzie veil'd her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger tips.
- Every evening, Laura and Lizzie sit together next to a stream or a brook ("among the brookside rushes"), enjoying the "cooling weather" after the heat of the day.
- But something embarrasses them: Laura "bows her head" when she hears them, and Lizzie "blushes."
- It's not clear whether Laura "bows her head" in order "to hear" the goblin men more clearly, or whether hearing them embarrasses her, so she bows her head when she hears them. The line could be read either way.
- Both of the girls "clasp" each other closely and "caution" each other. It's not clear what they're cautioning each other about, yet.
- They both have "tingling cheeks" as they hear the goblin men calling. Why does the sound of a fruit market make them so uncomfortable?
- We're also told that their "finger tips" are "tingling" – is that because their fingers are "itching" to grab some fruit? It's not clear.
"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.
- Laura asks Lizzie to lie closer to her, and then "prick[s]" up her head.
- But even as she perks up, she warns Lizzie that they shouldn't even look at the goblins, let alone buy their fruit, because who knows where the fruit came from?
- Describing the fruit as having "hungry thirsty roots" makes it sound scary, like something from a bad horror movie.
- The goblins just call for them to "come buy" again as they go past down the "glen," or narrow valley.
"Oh," cried Lizzie, "Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men."
Lizzie cover'd up her eyes,
Cover'd close lest they should look;
Laura rear'd her glossy head,
And whisper'd 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."
- Lizzie warns Laura not to sneak peeks at the goblin men, and covers her own eyes tightly.
- Lizzie covers her eyes "lest they should look," which sounds odd – as though her eyes might try to peek without her permission. She must really be deeply tempted to look at the goblins.
- But Laura doesn't pay attention. She keeps looking and gives Lizzie a whispered description of what she sees.
- The "little men" are heading down the valley – each of them carrying some kind of container for the fruit.
- One of them is even carrying a heavy "golden dish."
- Laura is amazed by the sight of the goblin men and their fruit. She remarks on how "luscious" the grapes look, and thinks about how "warm the wind" must be where the grapes are grown to get them so fat and juicy.
"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 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.
- Lizzie doesn't want to hear about the "luscious" grapes or anything else. She refuses to listen over and over again.
- She warns Laura that the goblin's "gifts" are "evil."
- Then Lizzie sticks her fingers in her ears so that she won't be able to hear her sister's descriptions or the goblins' calls, and runs away with her eyes shut. Don't try this at home, you'll probably run into something.
- Meanwhile, Laura stays by the side of the stream to watch the procession of the goblins.
- She's described as "curious" and "wondering." She just wants to see more of them.
- Before, she described the goblins as "little men," but now the description gets pretty wacky. According to Laura, they all have body parts like different animals.
- And some of those animals come from places far from England. The "wombat" is a marsupial from Australia. "Obtuse" is an odd way of describing a wombat. Are wombats particularly "obtuse," or dull and stupid?
- A "ratel" is an animal from South Africa that looks like a badger.
- None of them is the same. Notice how lines 71-76 all start with the word "one"? Each of the goblins is unique.
- Even their voices sound like different animals, but at least it sounds pleasant. Laura even thinks that their "dove"-like voice sounds "full of loves."