Study Guide

Goblin Market Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

By Christina Rossetti

Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

Fruit

This is an obvious one image for "Goblin Market." After all, the poem is about eating fruit and then wanting for more. The poem opens with a list of 29 different kinds of fruit (yes, we counted). What are you supposed to do with that kind of variety? The level of detail in the poem is often overwhelming, and it's hard to take in all at once. So what's all the fruit doing in the poem? Is it just about temptation? Or does it do something else? That's part of the fun of the poem – it keeps you guessing.

  • Lines 9: The goblins use a metaphor to describe the fuzz on their fresh peaches that makes the peaches seem like human faces, with "cheeks."
  • Lines 43-45: In these lines, Laura talks about the "hungry thirsty roots" of the fruit trees feeding on some unknown soil.
  • Line 406-407: Here, the intense imagery of the goblins trying to force-feed their fruits to Lizzie underscores the violence of the scene.
  • Lines 415-417: Lizzie is compared to an "orange-tree" being pollinated by "wasp and bee[s]" through an elaborate simile. Does this sound kind of sexual to you? It is probably supposed to.

Sisterhood

For the first hundred years after it was written, "Goblin Market" was read almost exclusively as a children's poem about the importance of sisterhood and sisterly heroism. In fact, you can still find greeting cards with the final lines of "Goblin Market" written in them. Just check out the "sister" section of a rack of birthday cards, and you might find one. But what's going on with these two sisters? All of the similes suggest that the two of them are virtually interchangeable, and yet one of them succumbs to the temptation of the goblin fruit, while the other stands firm.

  • Lines 184-186: This simile compares the two sleeping sisters to a pair of "pigeons in one nest."
  • Line 188: Laura and Lizzie are compared to "two blossoms on one stem" in this simile. Are they twins?
  • Lines 562-567: Laura gets the final word because she's the one who provides the moral of the story, and it's about the importance of sisters. These final lines of the poem use anaphora, or the repetition of the same basic structure over and over, to form of a list. Laura is listing all the ways that sisters are awesome.

Flowers

Flowers in "Goblin Market" tend to be associated with delicate, fragile purity, as opposed to the luscious, decadent, and sensual goblin fruit. Flowers, though, can be "plucked," which often represented a loss of purity (line 151).

  • Line 83: This simile compares Laura to a lily by the edge of a "beck," or stream. Lilies often symbolize purity in western culture, but they are also sometimes associated with death.
  • Line 120: Laura connects the golden flowers on the "furze" with golden coins, or money, through metaphor.
  • Lines 150-151: Poor, misguided Jeanie – she ate the goblin fruit and even wore the "flowers" they'd picked for her. There's a possible pun on the word "bower" here: a "bower" is a shady part of a garden, but it's also used to describe a lady's private dressing room. So a "flower" that was "plucked" from a "bower" could very well suggest the loss of virginity.
  • Line 409: This simile compares Lizzie to a lily, and the alliteration, or repeated "L" sounds in these lines really underscores the connection between Lizzie and a lily.
  • Lines 533-534: In these lines, the description of the "new buds" and "cup-like lilies" relate metaphorically to Laura's new freshness and health.

Money

Of course "money" has to be important in a poem with "market" in the title. But even though the market is central to the basic plot of the poem, money only changes hands twice. And the first time, it's not even real money – it's a lock of hair. So what's that about?

  • Line 120: Laura is the first to talk about money metaphorically. In this line, she says that the only "gold" she has is the golden flowers that grow on the "furze" (a prickly kind of shrub with yellow flowers).
  • Line 123: The goblins immediately pick up on Laura's use of metaphor, and point out that if the "gold" on the "furze" counts, why not the "gold" on her "head."
  • Line 126: Laura makes her metaphor relating gold coins to golden hair literal when she actually snips off a "golden curl" to use as money.
  • Line 127: Even Laura's "tear" related to something of monetary value (a "pearl"). It's as though her whole body is getting turned into something that can be exchanged, bought, or sold, just through the poem's metaphors.

The Moon

The moon is often symbolically connected to women in poetry. But, it can also have to do with cycles and changes, since the moon changes shape throughout the month. The moon makes a couple of appearances in "Goblin Market," and always seems to be connected with addiction to the goblin fruit.

  • Line 84: In this simile, Laura is compared to a "moonlit poplar branch." A poplar is a kind of delicate, flowering tree – appropriate for Laura, who is in the "blossom" of her youth.
  • Line 148: Lizzie reminds Laura about the girl, Jeanie, who had eaten the goblin fruit and died. She "met them in the moonlight," so the temptation to eat goblin fruit is again associated with "moonlight." Is the market not open when there's no moon?
  • Line 246: Again, the "moon" is associated with the danger of temptation. Lizzie hears the goblins call, and the movement of the moon in the sky warns her that she should get inside.
  • Lines 278-280: After having eaten the goblin fruit in the moonlight, Laura's life seems somehow bound up with the moon: she starts to "dwindle" as the moon wanes from full.

Water

A lot of the action of "Goblin Market" takes place down by the stream where Laura and Lizzie gather water. Most of the detail in "Goblin Market" means something. What about the water and all the images associated with water? Give us your ideas!

  • Lines 85-86: In this simile, Laura is compared to a ship whose anchor is up and lines are cast –nothing is holding it back anymore. So in this image, water is associated with being unrestrained and free (possibly not in a good way).
  • Line 219: After Laura has eaten the fruit, she and Lizzie go to draw water from the stream as usual. The "gurgling" of the stream appeals to the sense of the reader. Instead of only visual imagery, here, we're given auditory detail.
  • Lines 289-292: This simile compares Laura's fantasies about goblin melons to the mirages of water that travelers might see in the desert.