Dover Book

Text Box with description of Book

    This famous Victorian poem by Christina Rossetti can be appreciated by children and adults, both with very different interpretations. According to Wikipedia, Rossetti claimed it was not intended for children, yet in public she said it was.
    Children could appreciate the lesson here of the folly of giving in to temptation, and redemption when the lesson has been learned. But to an adult, the poem is very sensual, filled with sexual symbolism, especially keeping in mind that it was written in Victorian times (written in 1859 and published in 1862), an era characterized by sexual repression. If you do read it to younger children, use caution and provide interpretations appropriate for their age.
    It is about two sisters, Lizzie and Laura who live together. They go down to the brook to fetch water each evening, and are tempted by the goblins selling all kinds of luscious fruit. But they know they should not buy, or even look at them:

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

    Lizzie warns Laura not to look, but she does anyways:

"Look, Lizzie, look Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men."

    Laura runs home but Laura stays. She has no money, so she cuts a lock of her hair as payment, and gorges on the fruit:

She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gathered up one kernel-stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.

    Laura is afraid for her sister, and warns her of Jeanie, who also tasted the forbidden fruits, then turned gray and died while still young. And all too soon, Laura begins to pine away, waiting for the goblin men to return, but she cannot hear them. Turning gray and aging, she sits and does nothing that had before given her pleasure. Lizzie does hear the goblins, however, and finally, in order to save her sister, one evening goes down to the brook and offers to buy their fruits to take to Laura. But she will not eat. At first they "Hugged her and kissed her, Squeezed and caressed her," but she still refuses to eat and then they get angry:

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.

    But she does not. She resists temptation. (See illustration above on the book cover "White and golden Lizzie stood.")
    When she gets home, Laura awaits. Lizzie says:

"Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew."

    OK, maybe it really isn't for children. . .
    But as Laura kisses her, her lips and tongue are scorched, and she is freed. Her youth returns and she becomes herself again.
    It really is a fascinating and powerful poem, and leaves one rather gasping. What makes this particular edition so special is that it contains four full color illustrations by Arthur Rackham, plus a rare watercolor from the 1933 edition, made available to Dover by Jonkers Rare Books. In addition to these four colored works, there are twenty other tiny black-and-white images throughout the book. (If you regularly read my reviews, you might guess that I am a huge Rackham fan.) And this particular edition is also a beautiful hardcover, a lovely book for collectors.

"Look, Lizzie, look Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men."

Look, Lizzie, look Lizzie, Down the glen tramp little men.

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