Friday, January 17, 2014

Poetry Friday: Hail...Muse?

Poetry is not exactly something which can be forced.  Okay, it can be forced, but in general, the result is terrible.  Hence, you are reading this today instead of the regularly scheduled Poetry Friday. Instead, I want to talk about something poetry-ish while not actually writing poetry.  Okay, so maybe I’ll write some poetry; it is Poetry Friday after all.  I mean, limericks technically are poetry…technically. 

Sculpting Don Juan like Myron, 
“Hail, Muse! Et cet’ra,” wrote Byron.
What poets invoke
He saw as a joke
‘Midst the Romantic environ. 

(My scanning is not wrongly done.  Byron pronounced Juan, “JOO-ən.” Professors do say that this is the way it is, judging by his scansion.) 

That was my semi-poetic introduction to today’s semi-poetic topic: The Muse.  

George, Lord Byron was considered a bit of a Romantic era apostate for his view of the Muse (amongst other things).  One of my very favorite lines of Don Juan is when Byron opens the section by writing, “Hail Muse! Et cetera.” This was a bit of a stab at those Romantic era writers who still employed the invoking of the muse as part of their poetry.  

Back in the good ‘ol days of Greek yore, the Muse was a semi-deity who supposedly came to the poets and gave them their inspiration for writing.  Greek writers frequently invoked the Muse.  Later, the invoking of the Muse fell into disuse, particularly with the advent of shorter poetical forms such as the sonnet.  The decline of polytheistic religion and the rise of Christianity’s prominence throughout the Western poetry-writing world also contributed to the poetic Muse’s demise.  By the time the Enlightenment rolled around, the idea of the Muse was laughable. 

Enter the Romantic Poets.  The Romantic movement was largely a pendulum-like reaction to the Enlightenment.  The Romantic philosophy saw a return to nature and the ‘primitive man.’  Much of the poetry of this era is characterized by pantheism and the idea of the poet as semi-divine.  Whereas for the Greek poets, the Muse was an actual deity, to the Romantic writers, the Muse was in fact part of the whole natural universe, flowing through each of us.  Of course, some were especially tuned into this, so they were elected by the divine spirits to be poets.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the earlier Romantic poets who subscribed to this; in “The Eolian Harp” we see him as the harp (poet) played by the wind (the divine pantheistic Muse).  Likewise, in “Kubla Khan,” we see the poet as one who has been elected by the powers of the earth.  (Apparently brought on by feeding on honey-dew.  Your individual results may vary. )  

So, the Romantic poets returned to the custom of invoking the Muse—though not as such.  Instead, you see nature taking the part of the Muse.  Part of the reason Wordsworth and Coleridge (particularly his earlier works) are such a pain to read is due to their rambling on and on forever about nature before they get to the actual point of the poem (I’m talking about you, “This Lime Tree Bower, My Prison”). 

Even Byron’s fellow Romantic apostate Percy Bysshe Shelley still subscribed to this semi-divine poet business.  Though they both saw nature in decay rather than in glory, if you read “Ode to West Wind,” you will see a very depressed Shelley calling on the spirit of the wind to inspire him. (I knew an English professor who referred to Shelley as the emo kid of the poetry world.) However, Byron’s delightfully satirical writing mocks the idea of an all-inspiring Muse (not to mention a few less-than-friendly jabs at Wordsworth).  “Hail Muse! Et cetera” is his flippant rejection of such a concept.
After the Romantic era, the idea of the Muse once again fell into disuse, except for the occasional reference.  Saying “the Muse is upon me” is just a way of saying you’ve had a brilliant idea.  Heck, that’s even where we get “to muse,” as in to ponder or think about. 

So, now that you have read this little introduction to the notion of the Muse, I want to ask:
Is there such a thing?

Granted, I don’t believe in a Greek semi-deity or a pantheistic, milk-of-paradise-dispensing spirit that inspires people to write, but I have to admit, there are times that a writer just gets those I-have-to-write-it-now-or-I’ll-explode moments (mostly at terribly inconvenient moments).  Contrast these with the “meh” moments where you can’t seem to put a single word on the page, and even if you do, you strike it out. 

Think about it.  We call it writer’s block, or the writing doldrums.  Doldrums are places without wind; a place where you get stuck while sailing.  It seems as if a lot of writers feel like their ideas are beyond their control, just like being a leaf blown around in the wind. (Hmm, where have I heard that idea before?)

I know that I feel this way.  Sometimes, I’ve got nothing, and then I feel “inspired” and just write and write and write.  On the other hand, I am capable of forcing myself to write without feeling inspired, and frequently do.  I admit that the quality is diminished in these cases, though.

Now, if you read Writer’s Digest or similar types of things, you will frequently hear people support the idea of writing whether you “feel like it” or not.  Waiting for inspiration will get you nowhere.  The best thing to do, so the advice generally goes, is write whatever and then go back and fix it.  And this is sound advice.  I have used that advice on multiple occasions 

There is something to be said for the “you can’t edit a blank page” camp, but without the inspiration, without the Muse, is what you’ve written even worth editing? At least, this is how I’ve been rationalizing my lack of writing lately.  In all honesty, I think there is something to be said for waiting for inspiration; on the other hand, the “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy is useful as well.  

But I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it doesn’t ever work for writing poetry.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even work for prose.  It does work for blog posts, though, which is mostly why this one is so terrible.
Perhaps I need to feed on some honey-dew.  Now, do you think that's the melon or some kind of nectar?  And where can I get some milk of paradise to chase that down with?

What do you think of inspiration versus perspiration in writing? Does it work for all forms or just some? If you write poetry, do you have to feel ‘inspired’ first? Did you find the second limerick hidden in the post? Did you like it?  Why am I asking so many questions?  Leave your thoughts or pleas for me to shut up in the comments.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I have an article published on Mythic Scribes!

If you are a writer of speculative fiction, then you will probably love Mythic Scribes.  I have been a member of this fantasy writer's website/forum for a little over a year or so and I love it.  Not only do they have a great board for discussing all things pertaining to fantasy writing, they also have spectacular articles on writing on their main page. 

Well, all of them are spectacular, except for this one, which was written by yours truly:

Fan Fiction: An Epiphany

It was very kind of Mythic Scribes to darken their doors by publishing a piece that I wrote. 

I hope that you all go take a look at my article and check out all the awesome stuff that's going on at Mythic Scribes!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Poetry Friday!

(c) 2014 A.L.S. Vossler

Words bubble and flow from the nib,
Spout and cascade onto blank serene page;
Where, frothing and rippling, they sing
Sweet bold rushing music in phrases and rests.
Broken, the glistening surface now gurgles—
Turbulent, still; turbulent, still—
And meaning’s fine mist gently does drift
Away on the breeze of perception.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fantasy, Realism, and Rossetti! Oh my!: Thoughts on “Goblin Market”

If you ever have the opportunity to study Christina Rossetti in an academic climate, you will find more academic journal articles, essays, and even books written on “Goblin Market” than on any other of her many fine works.  Even when you do find a resource touching on another of her poems, it is frequently analyzed in light of or in conjunction with “Goblin Market.”

In other words, if you would like to learn about “Goblin Market,” prepare yourself for a feast.

As could be expected in academia, however, this feast is a cornucopia of contradictory ideas and interpretations.  Some suggest that “Goblin Market” is a metaphor for humanity’s fall and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  If you are of a Christian bent, you can easily see why someone might see this.  Laura’s fall comes through fruit; Lizzie’s pure behavior and self-sacrifice brings Laura back. There is even the beautiful sacramental language of “Eat me, drink me, love me” (473) which resonates with the Christian Eucharist.  Further research tells that Rossetti was heavily involved in the Anglican church, so this makes the Christian narrative interpretation quite believable.

Other interpretations build from the highly sensual language in the poem.  Some writers say that it is a metaphor for the emphasis that Victorians put on women’s virginal status and its role on the economic state of women in England.  This too is easy to see; Lizzie is saved by keeping her silver penny, a metaphor for virginity, while Jeannie dies “for joys brides hope to have” (315).  Research also informs us that Rossetti worked with the Anglican church to provide relief and healing to women who had been involved in prostitution.  This interpretation is also viable and supported with both literary and historical evidence.

The sensual nature of the poem has spurred even extremely prurient takes on its meaning; for example, Playboy once released a book with erotic photographs to go along with the poem. All you need to do is read “She sucked and sucked and sucked the more/ […] / She sucked until her lips were sore” (139-141) and you sort of get the idea.  All I can say is that they must have been trying to appeal to lonely English professors.

You can research “Goblin Market” until you are dizzy (and I have).  In everyone’s eagerness to explicate this poem into oblivion, however, I notice that no one ever stops to ask, “Hey, what if this was just a story she wrote?” Even if one did, the reply is obvious.  All stories have a deeper meaning—no story is “just” a story.  While Stanley Fish might insist that the readers create that meaning all by themselves, I tend to think that the meaning more or less comes from the author.

(However, my many issues with Fish and his extreme reader-response criticism are outside the scope of this blog post.  Perhaps another day I shall delve into the problems with the controversial idea that meaning is created and not found.)

A question which I also have never seen asked is this: “What genre is ‘Goblin Market?’” Answers to such a question would generally be either “literature” or “poetry.”  It is my proposition, however, that “Goblin Market” is fantasy.

I can almost hear the academic purists crying, "Blasphemy!" now.  “Fantasy? Are you mad?  It’s literature! It’s not fantasy, you Tolkien-toting hag! It’s a metaphor for reality!”

To which I reply, “What do you think fantasy is, anyway?”

I bring this up because there is an unspoken tendency in academia—and the writing world at large—that fantasy and science fiction aren’t “real” literature.  Just go to any English department and tell the professors that you are writing a novel.  Their faces light up at first, but then when you tell them it’s speculative fiction, they sort of look away as if embarrassed for you; a look that says, “Ah, you poor, pathetic purveyor of pulp fiction.”

Who knows, maybe I just went to the wrong college.*

However, I ardently insist that speculative fiction is literature.  And this is where the title of my blog comes in.

“Lamps and Mirrors” is a reference to M.H. Abrams’ theory of the mind as a lamp or as a mirror.  One of my favorite writers, G. E. Veith, Jr., takes Abrams’ metaphor and applies it to realism and fantasy.  Veith does not call realism and fantasy genres, however; rather, he describes them as modes of literature.  I find the term ‘mode’ to be far more accurate, because ‘mode’ suggests that something can change, whereas ‘genre’—literally meaning ‘kind’—is a narrow category with a fixed definition.

The problem today is that publishing genres have caused ‘literature’ to become synonymous with ‘realism,’ or, even worse, ‘the only stuff that intelligent people should read.’”  Veith, however, describes realism and fantasy by their function—as a mirror or as a lamp.

“Literature as a mirror,” he writes, “reflects the truth as it is” (118), thereby defining realism as a mirror.  Likewise, he compares fantasy to the lamp:

Literature as a lamp projects what is in the mind into tangible forms. […] When a lamp gives off light, it enables people to see not only itself but the external objects around it. Good fantasy does the same.  While projecting inner longings and fears, it also sheds a hard, objective light on the human condition (118).

However, the truth is that neither fantasy nor realism can be bottled into such constricted definitions; the modes of literature, while distinct in their attributes, can be fluid and transposable.  Veith emphasizes this by blurring their distinctions, saying that “fantasy can function as a mirror,” though its purpose is closer to a “fun-house mirror, whose exaggerations can help us notice what we normally ignore” (118). Orson Scott Card, a prominent writer of Science Fiction and Fantasy, also subscribes to this notion.

Indeed, one of the greatest values of speculative fiction is that creating a strange imaginary world is often the best was to help readers see the real world through fresh eyes and notice things that would otherwise remain unnoticed (61-62).

Conversely, “Even realistic fiction as a human expression and an active interpreter of the world it comments upon can serve as a lamp” (Veith 118), largely in part because “the wonders of the real world can outdo our wildest imaginations” (Veith 119).  

So where is the line drawn between fantasy and realism?  They are discrete yet mysteriously interwoven.  This blurring of distinctions is why, though the title of my blog is “Lamps and Mirrors,” the subtitle is “Where Literature and Speculative Fiction Meet.”  If I were to list the genres respectively, speculative fiction would be first and then literature would be second.  (Note that I use the publishing industry standard of ‘literature’ as synonymous with ‘realism’ and substitute ‘speculative fiction’ for ‘fantasy.’) This is because I agree with Veith’s conclusion that “For all its impossibilities, fantasy can paradoxically be very realistic psychologically and spiritually.  By the same token, realism, when pursued far enough, can include the fantastic” (146).  

This is why I once again submit that “Goblin Market” is fantasy.  Fantasy and realism, while distinct, are not mutually exclusive.  In “Goblin Market,” Rossetti’s lamp of imagination takes us to a strange, delightful world filled with fantastic little goblin men.  Her gorgeous description of “ratel- and wombat-like” (342) fills our mind's eye with wonder and enchantment.  The malevolent transformation of the goblins into vicious assailants against good-willed Lizzie sparks our imaginations with a glimpse of the fantastic heroine, “white and golden” (409) where she stands.  To say that “Goblin Market” is not fantasy is an insult to Christina Rossetti’s inimitable skill. 

However, fantasy and realism are not so distinct.  Academics say that “Goblin Market” is a metaphor, and indeed it is: a comparison without the use of ‘like’ or ‘as.’  The definition of fantasy as a lamp might say that this is indeed all fantasy is—a grand metaphor using the unfamiliar and imagined to describe the real.  In fact, fantasy is nothing more than a recombination of what already is:

Writers of fantasy are often said to be “creating” what does not in reality exist. […] The most outrageous monster conceivable is only a new combination of what already exists. A dragon is simply a giant reptile, with perhaps the wings of a bat and the fire of a blast furnace added on. […] Try to imagine a monster which owes nothing to what is real. […] Try to imagine a new shape of a new emotion. Try to imagine a new color.  The mind must work in terms of the existing created order, of which it is a part. […] Fantasy is tied to reality… (Veith 119)

Veith is not the only writer to suggest that fantasy is not just a bunch of imaginative gobbledygook which writers pull out of their rear ends.  Card also emphasizes the importance of researching the real world in order to write effective fantasy and science fiction.

Speculative fiction is not an escape from the real world, and writing it is not a way to have a literary career without having to research anything! Speculative fiction instead provides a lens through which to view the real world better than it could ever be seen with the natural eye (62).

Hence, we see that all of Rossetti’s goblins are compared to animals, a motley assortment of creatures from all over the world.  Wombats would have been an exotic creature for the Victorian Englishman to consider at the time—which reinforces the notion that even the real can be fantastic.  

Of course, the creatures of “Goblin Market” are not the only things which draw from reality.  This is why “Goblin Market” can be interpreted in so many different ways.  It is echoic of Christian doctrine, or Victorian society’s attitudes toward sexuality, or whatever particular theory one to which one might subscribe. (It might even be echoic of graphic sexual material, but I submit that Playboy released their illustrated version in highly poor taste, working to sell sex rather than increase an appreciation of literature.  I personally find their doing so deplorable—and yet highly ironic in light of “Goblin Market”s possible description of sex as something monetized.)

To ask what genre one might categorize “Goblin Market” as, in my opinion, is really a bit of a moot point.  Rather, we see that its mode of literature is fantasy—a lamp which sheds light on the realities before us.  Tricky as literary modes can be, however, we also see that it behaves in accordance with reality.  

This concept is what drives this entire blog.  It is an intersection of the literary modes, a bold contradiction to the publishing and academic world that literature and speculative fiction can be one and the same, the place where literature and speculative fiction meet. 


Works Cited:

Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnati: Writers Digest, 1990.

Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” Goblin Market and Other Poems. Ed. Candace Ward. New York: Dover, 1994. 1-16.

Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Reading Literature. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway,1990.


*I'm talking about all of my professors except for Douglas J., who taught a class on speculative fiction. Thanks for that, Mr. J.; you taught me to be fearless in my love of all things Science Fiction and Fantasy.


Share your thoughts on genre, literary modes, or whatever you have to say about "Goblin Market" in the comments. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Poetry Friday Guest Post: Christina Rossetti

If you have not already surmised this from reading my blog, I will say it now: I love poetry.  I mean, I adore poetry.  Reading poetry gives me chills; hearing poetry gives me chills.  I am going to share with you today what is, in my opinion, one of the most delicious poems I have ever read.  I consistently get goosebumps every time I read it.  I have read a lot of poetry, and this is one of the poems that I go back and read again and again.  

It is “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti.

Now, I am not just sharing this poem as easy filler for my blog.  Tomorrow I will be discussing “Goblin Market” at length, not only about its sheer amazing literary merit, but particularly in how I see its significance for the Speculative Fiction community.

As you read one of Christina Rossetti’s defining works—what I see as the crown of her many fine poems—I encourage you to read it aloud.  Most poetry is intended to be read aloud, but “Goblin Market” is an especially delightful experience in both the ears and the mouth.  

As a further disclaimer, in case I have not made myself clear, the following poem is not my own original work.  It was written in 1862 by Christina Rossetti, an English poet.

Now do you get the Rossetti 'bowl' comment I made?


"Goblin Market"
From Goblin Market and Other Poems, 1862
By Christina Rossetti

Morning and evening (1)
Maids heard the goblins cry
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
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
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,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
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:
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?”
“Come buy,” call the goblins
Hobbling by the glen.
“Oh,” 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,
And whispered 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 (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,
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 prowled 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. (80)

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry, (90)
“Come buy, come buy.”
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown  (100)
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(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,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr’d, (110)
The rat-paced spoke a word
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:
“Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either, (120)
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.”
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answered all together:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
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, (130)
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
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;
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gathered up one kernel-stone,
And knew not it was night or day (140)
As she turned home alone.

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
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, (150)
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low: (160)
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so.”
“Nay, hush,” said Laura:
“Nay, hush my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more;” and kissed her:
“Have done with sorrow; (170)
I’ll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:  (180)
Odorous indeed must be the mead
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
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow, (190)
Like two wands of ivory
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
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.

Early in the morning (200)
When the first cock crowed his warning,
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,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should: (210)
Lizzie with an open heart,
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:
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; (220)
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homewards said: “The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No willful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.”
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.

And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fall’n, the wind not chill:  (230)
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
“Come buy, come buy,”
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,  (240)
In groups or single,
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.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glowworm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark:
For clouds may gather (250)
Though this is summer weather,
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,
“Come buy our fruits, come buy.”
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind? (260)
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, nought discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night, (270)
Laura kept watch in vain
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught the goblin cry:
“Come buy, come buy;” —
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay and burn (280)
Her fire away.

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root.
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and a faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveler sees (290)
False waves in desert drouth
Whit 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,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear (300)
To watch her sister’s cankerous care
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins’ cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:” —
Beside the brook, along the glen,
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear; (310)
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear.
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
In her gay prime,
In earliest Winter time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp Winter time. (320)

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

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

“Good folk,” said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie:
“Give me much and many:” –
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
“Nay, take a seat with us,
Honour and eat with us,” (370)
They answered grinning:
“Our feast is but beginning,
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavour would pass by. (380)
Sit down and feast with us,
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,
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.” – (390)
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails,
They trod and hustled her, (400)
Elbowed and jostled her,
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,
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, — (410)
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
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
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, —
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire (420)
Close beleaguered by a fleet
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,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her, (430)
Lizzie uttered not a word;
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,
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 (440)
Along whichever road they took,
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
Some vanished in the distance.
In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not it was night or day; (450)
Sprang up the bank,
Tore thro’ the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse, —
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse, (460)
But not one goblin scurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
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?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices (470)
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
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,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair;
“Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted (480)
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin,
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?”—
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes, (490)
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish 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:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste, (500)
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
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,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there (510)
And overbore its lesser flame;
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
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,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about, (520)
Like a foam-topped waterspout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or it is life?

Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse’s flagging stir,
Felt for her breath, (530)
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
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
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream, (540)
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey
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;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives; (550)
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time;
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood (560)
In deadly peril to do her good,
And with the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
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 on if one goes astray,
To life one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.” (570)


Work Cited:

Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” Goblin Market and Other Poems. Ed. Candace Ward. New York: Dover, 1994. 1-16.


Share your thoughts on this amazing Victorian poet in the comments.  This poem is just so incredibly sumptuous all the way throughout, but my personal favorite lines are: 409-422, 466-476. If you don't feel compelled to read the whole poem again, go back and read those. Oh! So awesome.