'Goblin Market' - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone


Laura is seduced by the sound of the goblin men:

‘She heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together' (lines 77-8)
  • Cooing is associated with doves. In the Bible, these are used both to represent reconciliation and peace. See Aspects of literature > Big ideas from the Bible > Dove
  • By being tricked by the goblin men into associating their cry with the ‘cooing' of doves, it seems that Laura links this to positive attributes and fails to recognise the danger it presents
  • Rather than notice their fierce, animal-like attributes highlighted by the narrator, she is drawn to the alluring call they make. To her, the words, ‘Come buy, come buy', are ‘sugar baited' (lines 232, 234).

After Laura has tasted the fruit, she is no longer able to hear the goblin cry and ‘turned cold as stone' (line 254) when she realises that Lizzie still can. Like her sight, her hearing is dulled as she realises the consequences of her disobedience.

Investigating language and tone

  • Think about the descriptions of sight and sound in the poem. How do the goblins make their fruit sound alluring?
    • Why do you think that Laura can no longer hear the cry of the goblin men?
  • Highlight and link together words of sight, sound and taste
    • What do you notice about how they are combined throughout the poem?

Structure and versification


For the most part, the poem is written in loose iambic tetrameters. The iambic foot is a rising metre and often speeds up the pace at which a poem is read. By composing such a long poem in this form, Rossetti emphasises the fast pace of the story she is telling and the passion that it involves.

The iambic tetrameters can be described as loose since they give way to numerous variations throughout the poem:

  • Much of the language associated with the goblins is written in rhythmic dactylic dimeter, which adds to the effect of incantation by which they attract the girls
  • Lizzie interrupts the lilting beat when she declares, ‘No, no, no' and tells Laura not to be charmed by the fruit they offer since it is evil and harmful (lines 64-66). The repetition of her ‘No' emphasises her firmness and draws attention to the dangers of allowing oneself to listen lazily to anything that passes
  • The stiff spondees in stanza 15 (‘fetched honey', ‘brought water', ‘sat down') verbally indicate the way in which Laura is physically ‘seizing up' as her illness takes hold
  • In the description of Laura's recovery, spondees are used to give emphasis to the power of the antidote that Lizzie brings her. The repetition of the same initial letters in the phrases ‘Swift fire' and ‘Sense failed' (lines 507-513) further increases the sense of the rush of life that overcomes Laura as she recovers.


The irregular yet insistent rhyme carries the poem forwards. The poem contains numerous couplets which occur especially in its lists. This increases the speed at which the poem is read and creates a rushed and breathless feel. For instance, by framing the goblin's cry using couplets and triplets, Rossetti emphasises its speed and draws attention to its overwhelming nature as it overpowers listeners with variety and quantity of description.

Throughout the poem, rhyme is used consistently to determine the pace and to link certain words together. For instance, the alternate repetition of the words ‘brother' and ‘other' (lines 93-96) draws attention to the otherness of the goblins. Their brotherhood shares little in common to the sisterhood that Lizzie and Laura enjoy. It is ‘other' in the sense that it is not based in any kind of love but in mutual distrust and competition.


Certain phrases, such as the merchants' cry ‘Come buy, come buy', are repeated throughout the poem. This highlights their insistence and the force of the temptation they offer.

Throughout the poem, instances of repetition occur when a passionate declaration is made. For instance, Laura repeats the phrase ‘I have no' three times to emphasise her haste in tasting the goblin fruits and to present a defence to the goblins themselves (lines 116-119). In contrast, Lizzie's speech to the goblins is measured and determined.

The phrase ‘Or like' is repeated four times in the depiction of Laura's recovery (lines 502-506). This repetition emphasises the difficulty in finding words to describe the effects of the antidote and the inadequacy of the similes that are offered. The speaker suggests that the recovery is so sudden and powerful that it is almost impossible to put into words.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Choose a passage and describe how the metre it uses works to reinforce the tone of the speaker
  • Consider the rhyme schemes that are used throughout the poem. Where does the rhyme work to increase the pace at which the poem is read?
  • Describe the effect of enjambement throughout the poem.
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