“Goblin Market”: an X-rated poem . . . for children

Do you guys know "Goblin Market"? THIS POEM BE CRAZY.

It is a long narrative poem published in 1862 by Christina Rossetti (sister of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti). On the surface, it is a mythical story about goblins and magical fruit and one sister saving the other–a sweet little fairy-tale for children. Just below the surface, however, is really explicit sexual imagery that made me go, "She wrote what now?" The confusing part is that Christina Rossetti has come out saying both that the poem is innocent and purely for children, AND that it is very sexual and absolutely not for children. Let's examine this highly suspicious text:

In a rural, forested, fairy-tale setting, goblin merchants come around every night and yell at women to come buy their fruit. They have the sexiest fruit, you know you want to eat it, come on girrrrrl, temptation, temptation.

Sisters Laura and Lizzie are hanging out in the woods, hugging each other in a kind of sketchy way. And Laura is like, "What's that I hear? Strange creatures want me to ingest things?" And Lizzie is like, "We must not look at goblin men,/ We must not buy their fruits:/ Who knows upon what soil they fed/ Their hungry thirsty roots?” TRANSLATION: "That's like a kid accepting candy from a man driving a white van. Are you stupid? DON'T EVEN LOOK AT THEM." Laura's all, "But it's so luscious!"

And then I start to think that Lizzie might be the stupid one, because she does the stupidest of all things: she leaves Laura alone near the goblins. So the goblins come a-seducin', and they're like, "S'up, baby? Fancy some addictive fruit?" And Laura goes, "DO I EVER! Oh, but I have no money to pay you. Maybe that's why Lizzie felt comfortable leaving me on my own." And the goblins go, "Not a problem. We'll take a lock of your golden hair instead (in Victorian imagery, she is paying for the fruit with a highly sexualized part of her body). They give her some fruit to eat and:

She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She suck’d until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gather’d up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turn’d home alone.

Yup. That happened. There's a whole lot o' suckin' in this poem.

So Laura goes home and Lizzie is like, "Where the hell have you been? I've been worried about you, even though I left you there half-tempted already. What could you have possibly been doing all this time?" And Laura is like, "Uhhhh, nothing?" And Lizzie goes, "Don't you remember our friend Jeanie who ate the goblin fruit? And she was never able to get her hands on any more after the first time and she pined away and DIED? DIED OF SKETCHY FRUIT?"

And Laura goes, "No, it's totally cool. I had some fruit and I'm not pining, see? I'll just grab some more tomorrow night and you can taste it for yourself. Don't worry, I'm just a total crack-head now, I hope you're prepared to deal with this." So they go to bed . . . in the same bed, "Cheek to cheek and breast to breast/ Lock’d together in one nest", and that inspired this drawing by the author's brother:


Anyway, they get up the next morning and do chores around their little farm, but Laura is kind of absent. Could she be . . . maybe . . . PINING? So when night falls, the sisters go near the goblin market again and Lizzie hears them saying, "Come buy, come buy!" but Laura can't. She realizes that, having eaten and become addicted to their fruit once, she will never get it again. They are invisible to her now. So the girls go home and Laura has all of these erotically-charged fever dreams, and then she remembers that she took the seed from one of the fruits away with her, and tries to plant it in the back garden, and waters it with her tears, and is like, "GROW, YOU SON OF A BITCH. MAMA'S GOT A MONKEY ON HER BACK." But it doesn't grow and she pines away like the ill-fated Jeanie, and stops doing her chores, because drug addicts are not great at that whole "pulling your own weight" thing.

So Lizzie's had enough of this crap and goes to the goblins one night and says, "Look, can I buy some fruit to bring home to my sister?" And they go, "No, it's for you only. You have to eat it here in front of us." And she says, "That's not going to happen. Give me my money back." And they are completely unprepared to handle such an option. So they attack her with the fruit (this is actually written very akin to a rape scene and it's fairly disturbing), and smoosh it all up on her face:

[They] Tore her gown and soil’d her stocking,
Twitch’d her hair out by the roots,
Stamp’d upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeez’d their fruits

Against her mouth to make her eat.

Which inspires this uncomfortable painting, which is largely used now as the cover for publications of Christina Rossetti's works:

goblin market

After hours of her refusing to open her mouth and having the crap beaten out of her, the goblins give up, throw her money back at her and are exorcised from the land. She walks home covered in syrup, goes in to the house and is like, "Heeeeey Laaaaura, look what I've got!"

Actually, what she says is:

Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me

So, without putting too fine a point on it, Laura . . . sucks her sister for a while to get the syrup off, only now the fruit tastes bitter. It works, though, because after getting really sick from it, Laura is better and doesn't pine anymore.

They both grow old and have children and tell the tale about the goblins who don't come around anymore, and Rossetti says the moral of the story is "There is no friend like a sister" though the real moral is: if a strange man in the woods offers you something, and you are stupid enough to put it in your mouth, then you might just be too stupid to live.

I would also like to show you that in 1973, Playboy issued this cover on one of their magazines:
Every fruit is shaped like a penis or vagina. I think their interpretation was pretty clear. I mean, props to a pornographic magazine for having a literary reference on the cover.

So, at the end of the day, is this for children or not? I think, in all honesty, that children probably wouldn't pick up on the sexual imagery, no matter how explicit it seems to us as adults. This is probably one of those things where kids love the story when young, forget about it for several years, and when they come back to it as adults think, "Dear god, my parents let me read this?" I think both of Rossetti's claims that it was for children and not for children can be true at the same time.

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3 Responses to “Goblin Market”: an X-rated poem . . . for children

  1. Anonymous says:



  2. Anonymous says:

    This may very well be the best post you’ve ever written. I laughed SO HARD, and every bit of this is just golden. I especially like that Playboy got in on the act, thus removing any doubt about the potential sexy-ness.


  3. Aww, thanks! It was hard NOT to have fun with this one. This poem is so completely wackadoo.


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