Laura - illustrated by Arthur RackhamRobin: In “Goblin Market”, a nineteenth century poem by Christina Rossetti, Laura is tempted into tasting the delicious fruits offered by the goblins, and afterwards pines when she cannot get any more. Fairy food has long been said to trap humans in fairyland – just as eating the food of the Underworld stops people from returning to the upper world. In this poem the goblin men bring it into the human world and it leaves people fatally dissatisfied with ordinary food and ordinary life.

“Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy”

Laura and Lizzie are aware of the conventional wisdom:

“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?…”
“Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”

However…

“Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
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-scurry.”

Paying with a curl of her golden hair, Laura gorges herself on the delicious fruit: “sweeter than honey from the rock”. She expects to get more the next night – but no, she can never again hear the cry “Come buy, Come buy” although her sister still does.

Lizzie eventually tries to buy some fruit for her sister, but the goblin men become furious when she will not eat:
Lizzie - illustrated by Arthur Rackham
“One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
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.”

Exciting, isn’t it? This is not how market traders usually behave, even when you ask for your money back. You can hear as well as read the full poem here: Goblin Market. As to what those goblin men were up to, and how wicked they really were, I am sure I cannot tell you. The Victorian Web has some interesting – and some bizarre – thoughts on the subject.

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