Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood, -
Like a rock of blue-vein'd stone
Lash'd by tides obstreperously, -
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire, -
Like a fruit-crown'd orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, -
Like a royal virgin town
Topp'd with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguer'd by a fleet
Mad to tug her standard down.
- Lizzie won't give in. She stands firm against the goblins' violent assault.
- This stanza is a long list of similes describing Lizzie as she stands alone against the goblins.
- She's compared first to a "lily," standing alone against a "flood" of water.
- Then she's compared to a "stone" that sticks up by itself in the "tides" of the ocean. (Notice that the stone is "blue-veined," like a person's skin.)
- Next, she's compared to a "beacon," or signal light, which shoots up "golden fire" as a sign to sailors in the "hoary," or ancient, ocean.
- Like the "blue-veined stone," the simile that compares Lizzie to a "beacon" reminds us of her physical body – the "golden fire" is her golden blonde hair.
- Then Lizzie is compared to an "orange-tree" that is surrounded by buzzing, stinging insects.
- Again, we're reminding of Lizzie's body. First of all, because the "orange-tree" is "fruit-crowned," and second, because the insects are trying to pollinate the tree. Do you know what pollination is, biologically speaking? Yep, and so did Rossetti.
- As if the pollination simile weren't enough, the final simile describes Lizzie as a city under siege –not just any city, of course, but a "virgin town." The attacking "fleet" of enemy ships wants to yank down her "standard," or flag.
One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuff'd and caught her,
Coax'd and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratch'd her, pinch'd her black as ink,
Kick'd and knock'd her,
Maul'd and mock'd her,
Lizzie utter'd not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in:
- Next, the poet quotes the old saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. The same is true of Lizzie: the goblins have her surrounded and keep trying to force-feed her the fruit, but she keeps her mouth shut and refuses it.
- Even though the goblins "cuffed" and hit her, she still stands firm.
- Here's another of Rossetti's long lists describing the goblins and what they're doing to Lizzie.
- Lizzie doesn't make a peep, because she's afraid that if she opens her lips at all, even to say "Ouch" the goblins will be able to "cram" some fruit into her mouth.
But laugh'd in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupp'd all her face,
And lodg'd in dimples of her chin,
And streak'd her neck which quaked like curd.
- Lizzie knows she has them beat, so she's laughing. But she's only laughing on the inside ("in heart"), because if she opens her mouth to laugh at them, they'll get fruit in her mouth.
- The goblins aren't getting any fruit into Lizzie's mouth, but they're sure getting the juice all over her.
- The fruit juice is pooling in her "dimples" and is getting smeared all over her face and neck.
- At this point, Lizzie is a sticky mess, like a five-year-old after a pie-eating contest.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kick'd their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writh'd into the ground,
Some div'd into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanish'd in the distance.
- Finally, the goblins give up – Lizzie's "resistance" is too much for them.
- At least they have the politeness to return her penny before they go.
- The goblins scatter. Some of them "dive into the brook," and others wriggle "into the ground" like worms.
- Some of them disappear on the "gale," or wind.
- As they leave, they kick their fruit away.