Goblin Market

Goblin market1Morning and evening

Maids heard the goblins cry:

“Come buy our orchard fruits:

Come buy, come buy:”

In 1859, Christina Rossetti wrote her epic poem, Goblin Market – a fantastical fairytale which has compelled critics and fans of the work to pick it apart; to study it; to mould it into whatever suits their purpose… Rossetti herself, allegedly claimed that she ‘did not mean anything profound by this fairytale’, which, whether this be true or not, only goes to show the transformative power of the poetic voice.

I think the poem is certainly one worth a read (if you have the time – it’s Long!), drawing from it your own conclusions as to what you would like it to mean. Or, simply savour those words – Rossetti was ridiculed by some at the time for daring to create a poem outside the restrictive

“We must not look at goblin men,  We must not buy their fruits:  Who knows upon what soil they fed  Their hungry thirsty roots?”

“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”

confines of traditional poetic form, but in her daring, she produced an experimental poem still being discussed today and her sing-song rhythm in the piece makes it a rather lilting, fun poem to read.

Following on from my recent poetry workshop in Carnlough as part of the John Hewitt Spring Festival, where we talked about maintaining an air of mystery in poetry, I feel that Goblin Market, which at first glance seems to give it all away, actually does weave a spell over the reader. Well, the varying opinions on ‘What It All Means’ is proof of that…

For an interesting summary of the poem and reaction to it at the time, I refer you to a brilliant new resource at the British Library here, which also includes a great selection of accompanying images, some of which I have reproduced in this post. I have only just begun to explore the website myself but, suffice it to say – it is a wonderful online library of material for anyone with an interest in literature.

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.

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.

In my own poetry writing, I embrace the experimental and, whilst this sometimes results in works that I really can’t explain afterwards, that too is part of what draws me to it. When you begin to write a poem, you may be inspired by a particular idea or theme – you may have a message in mind that you wish to share and then… often, the words take over and lead you on a merry dance to somewhere quite unexpected but nevertheless compelling. Where you end up may not be quite where you intended to be, and where the reader ends up after poring over your poem may also differ.

An epic narrative work like Goblin Market reminds me of the fun it can be to explore more in my writing – to embrace the adventure – and that, my friends, is the magic of poetry.

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