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A Story From: England
Read Time: 16 to 20 mins.
For Ages: 8 to 14yrs.

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M
orning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons, raspberries;–

All ripe together
In summer weather,
Come buy, come buy,
Taste them and try,
Come buy, come buy.”

Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Sarah raised her head to hear
Lizzie veiled her blushes
“Lie close,” Sarah said,
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 down the glen.
“Oh,” cried Lizzie, “Sarah, Sarah!
You should not peep at goblin men.”
Lizzie covered up her eyes,
Closed them tight lest they should look;
While Sarah 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
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 could harm us.”
She thrust a finger
In each ear, shut her eyes and ran:
Curious Sarah 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,
She heard a voice like voice of doves,
Cooing all together;
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

When they reached where Sarah was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Looking at each other,
Signaling each other.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
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.

Sarah stared but did not stir,
Longed to buy but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her to taste
In tones as smooth as honey.

But sweet-toothed Sarah spoke in haste:
“Good folk, I have no coin with which to deal,
To take and not pay is as if to steal:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either.”

“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answered all together:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
So she clipped a precious golden lock
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit both fair and red:
She chewed and ate and swallowed 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 whether it was night or day
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 the goblins in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but only dwindled and grew grey;
Then fell with the first snow,
Where to this day no grass will grow
Where she now lies so low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never grow and never blow.
Sarah, you should not loiter so.”

“Nay, hush,” said Sarah.
“Nay, hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
Tomorrow night I will
buy more,” and kissed her:
“Have done with sorrow;
I’ll bring you plums tomorrow
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 even hold!”

Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Sarah rose with sister Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sewed and dreamed.

At last slow evening came:
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Sarah’s face more like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep;
Lizzie plucked purple and rich cattails golden,
Then turning homewards said: “The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest bends;
Come, Sarah, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.”
But Sarah loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.

And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not quite catching
The customary cry,
“Come buy, come buy!”
Not for all her watching
did she find even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling.

Till Lizzie urged, “O Sarah, come;
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
Sarah turned as cold as stone
To know her sister had heard that cry alone,
The goblin cry:
“Come buy our fruits, come buy!”
Must she then buy no more dainty fruit?
Her tree of life drooped from the root.
Sarah said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So they crept to bed, and lay
Sarah silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a sudden yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for her desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night,
Sarah kept watch in vain
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never again caught the goblin cry:
“Come buy, come buy;”–
She never again spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
And when the moon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and grey;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay and then to burn
her fire all 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 and watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
The stone was not to see the sun.
Then she no more swept the house,
Tend the fowls or the cows,
Fetch honey, knead cakes of wheat,
Bring water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister’s wasting care
She 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 Wintertime.

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

Laughed the goblins
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Clucking and gobbling,
Moppping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes,–
Hugged her and kissed her:
Baskets and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
We grew them and stew 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,
Honor us and eat with us,”
They answered grinning:
“Our feast is but beginning.
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavor would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be our welcome guest with us.”

“Thank you,” said Lizzie: “But one waits
At home alone for me:
So without further bargaining,
If you choose to sell me none,
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee.”–

They began to scratch their head,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring.
Grunting and snarling,
One called her proud,
Cross-graining, 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.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coax’d and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But held firm her heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupped all down her face,
And streaked her neck
And lodged in the dimples of her chin.

At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived in the brook without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.

In a smart, aching tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knowing not if it was night or day;
Sprang up the bank, thro’ the thicket she burst
Racing through bush her heart a’tingle
While she 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:
But not one goblin skurried after,
And inward she felt silent laughter.

She cried, “Sarah!” up the garden,
“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, taste my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Sarah, make much of me;
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to deal with goblin merchant men.”

Sarah started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air. Clutched her hair:
“Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in my undoing,
And ruined in my ruin?”
Shaking with anguish, fear, and pain,
She kissed her sister’s streaky stain.

Sarah’s lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as if one possessed she tore
Her robe and wrung her hands
In lamentable haste,
And beat her chest,
She spun about,
Like a foam-topped waterspout
Then cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Was it life or was it death?

That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse’s flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
Sarah awoke as if from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie not twice, but thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey
Her breath was as 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 thoughts bound up in tender lives;
Sarah 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 to the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town):
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:

“For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one back if one goes astray.”

 

end

 

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SOURCE:


Retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2005. All rights reserved.

The original poem, "Goblin's Market," was written by English poet, Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894) and first published in 1862.

Lindy asks poetry lovers and followers of Christina Rossetti's work to forgive her liberties in revising Rossetti's poetic legacy. Certain words youngsters today would stumble upon - ("purloin", "furze", "copse", "dingle") and so they were revised. The original name "Laura" was changed to "Sarah" to differentiate it more clearly from her sister "Lizzie." The original title, "Goblin Market" was changed to "The Goblin's Market". A goodly portion of the text, also regrettably, was shortened to heighten the momentum of the drama. This version of the poem was tested and re-tested before children to ensure a crowd-pleasing effect.


FOOTNOTE:


Scholar W. Glasgow Phillips suggests that Rossetti is the first English author to create a true female heroine. Female protagonists had existed before, of course, such as Elizabeth in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813), but they had no outlet for heroic action. Elizabeth had to spend a good deal of her energy waiting for Darcy to take action; she herself was constrained by the requirements of polite society. "Lizzie," on the other hand according to Phillips, "actively pursues temptation with the purpose of conquering it."