I am still working my way through The Selected Poems of Christina Rossetti and feel I have to comment on her remarkable Goblin Market. Many of you will know this famous work , but if you don't, you have missed out! A narrative fairy tale, this work is one of the most sensual and carnal explorations of sexual temptation and repression, and abandonment to erotic desire.
It tells the story of two sisters, Lizzie and Laura, who hear the cries of goblin men on their way to market. The fruit they offer is described sensually, " plump, unpecked cherries" and "Bloom-down-cheeked peaches". Lizzie warns that, " their evil gifts would harm us" but Laura is unable to resist temptation ; Eve- like, Laura eats the fruit and the language Rossetti uses - well, you judge,
"She sucked their fruit globes fair or red.
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man -rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She sucked until her lips were sore."
The above is by no means the only section of the poem that has sexual connotations. Unsurprisingly, after this encounter Laura remains under the spell of the goblin men and Lizzie has to save her by encountering the goblin men to barter for her sister's release. In a section reminiscent of rape and also of Christ's sacrifice and passion, the goblins hold Lizzie down, scratch her, tear her clothes and try to force her to eat, while she resists them, "Like a royal virgin town." Lizzie returns to Laura and offers her body to her, an act often seen by literary critics as analogous to the intensity of the communion meal,
" Laura - 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 men."
Many readers have expressed amazement that Rossetti, an unmarried woman, intensely religious, should write such a sensual and revealing poem, however I see Rossetti's capacity for religious devotion as an integral part of her passionate and intense nature.
A short poem from Sing Song ( written ,apparently, when she had finally turned her back on love) I see as a metaphor for Rossetti herself. I think Rossetti is the flint, a stone that seems dull and insignificant , but contains more potential for heat and fire than those stones which sparkle.
An emerald is as green as grass;
A ruby red as blood;
A sapphire shines as blue as heaven;
A flint lies in the mud.
A diamond is a brilliant stone,
To catch the world's desire;
An opal holds a fiery spark;
But a flint holds fire.