Christina Rosseti and Alfred Lord Tennyson, both notorious poets of the Victorian era (1830-1901) were heir to the poets Romantic era, which employed an interest in personal experience, everyday things, ordinary language, the Gothic, and the medieval as a basis for their poetry. The Victorian era carried from the Romantics distrust of religion, scepticism and an interest in the occult, and in some ways, Victorian poetry is known for its great sensibility. However the works of Tennyson and Roseti seem to employ a more religious Pre-Raphalite style of writing. Both “Goblin Market” and “The Lady of Shalott’ explore love, death, temptation, Christianity, and suffering. Each taking an individual standpoint on the subjects.
Let us first examine the themes of Love in the poem Goblin market. Although the main theme of the poem is temptation, the symbolism in the poem evokes images of sin, sexuality, corruption, and affection for loved ones. The main theme of love is the strong affection between Lizzie and Laura, their sisterly love helps them survive, this sisterly love is known as Agape (Dictionary Definition: “Love as revealed in Jesus, seen as spiritual and selfless and a model for humanity. Love that is spiritual, not sexual, in its nature”). From this definition we can draw the fact that their sisterly affection and selflessness helps them to help each other out with compassion:
“For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands”
In this poem the temptations of the Goblin men are fought off by the love of the two sisters. “For your sake I have braved the glen, And had to do with goblin merchant men” , this shows the selflessness of Lizzie’s love, that she was prepared to sacrifice herself for the sake of her own sister. Her love not only involves sacrifice but also protection, she seems to be wiser and more intelligent and sensible than Laura, and therefore takes the role of her protector and guardian when she “thrusts a dimple finger in each ear” to shield Laura from the harmful temptation of Goblins. In the end Lizzie’s love prevails and she lifts her sister out of the murky depths of addiction.
Some compare Lizzie to a Christ-like figure: since she is almost like a Martyr, resisting the temptation of poison to save her sister and redirecting her sister from the evils of Sensual love. “I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look: You should not loiter longer at this brook: come with me home”. Rosseti, when describing the vicious and desperate struggle between Lizzie and the “Goblin Men” uses very aggressive alliteration, the whole passage is filled with actions synonymous with struggling and jostling, which alliterate to depict a very vivid portrayal of a tough and uncomfortable physical struggle:
“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”
However despite this vicious physical assault, as Rosseti says in the poem herself, “One may lead a horse to water ,Twenty cannot make him drink”. And in the end Lizzie does NOT drink, she rises up and stands resilient in the face of abuse and evil, showing that good will prevail, and that in the face of adversity and attack, amidst chaos and temptation the actions of the just and the love and devotion and passionate desire for the emancipation of her dear sister lift her out of the murky sewers of defeat, making her the loving, selfless, death defying heroine in the poem.
Now we come to the concepts of Death tackled in this poem. I think it is safe to say that in the poem “Goblin Market’ , death is rejuvenation and resurrection. The first theme of death is brought to us by the description of the passing away of Jeanie who “”Fell sick and died In her gay prime”. From that moment on, the poem is a race against Death, which is personified , it is “knocking” on Laura’s door, and when it does “Lizzie weighed no more, Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze”.
When Death was inching towards Laura, as a punishment for her temptation, the cure to death was Lizzie’s love , which brought her rejuvenation. “Is this death or is this life?…Life out of death”, out of the Death of her addicted self, a new emancipated life has risen. The pathetic fallacy in the poem relates to the awakening of Laura, in the poem it is springtime, this is the time when all the plants and nature rejuvenates from the death of Autumn and Winter. And , as can be seen in the following passage, the two are strung together to depict a symbolic rebirth of Laura:
“And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes”
The images here are clear and depictive of a reanimation, just as plants and flowers are reanimated with colour when they were once “grey”. The waking up, the replenishment of waking up is exemplified by the poems underlying theme of vivication. Laura is brought back to life, and her breath draws parallels with May, which is the Spring month, the month of renewal and recrudescence.
Now I will contrast the concepts of love and death in Goblin market with those in the lady of Shalott. The lady of Shalott has an unrequited love for freedom, for the outside world, she sits in her castle looking outwards at life, while she lives in misery. Her love is of the real world, she however, is cursed to work in a castle and therefore her love is trapped, and she has no sister or guardian to lift her out of this trap. She sees two lovers and claims she is “half sick of shadows”, this shows that the real world is but a shadow to her. She also has a love for Lancelot, who dazzles her, with his brilliance. She is tempted by him, she is curious for the outside world, and for Lancelot himself.
“He rode between the barley sheaves
the sun came dazzling through the leaves
and flamed upon the brazen graves
of bold Sir Lancelot”
What affect does Lancelott Have on the lady of Shallot? Well, a lot more than you may think
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot “, Tirra Lirra was the famous story in “A Winters Tale” by Shakespeare, of Autolycus’ antics of sexual intercourse in a barn. This really shows the sexual restraint and tension the Lady is under, and it is almost as though sir Lancelot is an orgasmic personification of her deep sexual deprivation and sensual longing that overwhelmed her senses and tempts her into his brilliance. The contrast of the Lady’s dim, dull, grey world and his bright dazzling “meteor” like portrayal is what draws her from her world of shadows into the world of the real, in which she unfortunately, is destined to die.
“She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot
The mirror crack’d from side to side”
This shows that after being tempted by Lancelot she can no longer bear the shackles of sexual and sensual oppression; she breaks the mirror and is drawn into the world she has longed for.
She is so deprived of love that even a “funeral with plumes and lights” was a happy, lovely thing for her. Death is this poem, unlike Goblin market, is an end, it is death in its realest form. She is not resurrected or lifted, she simply dies, and she is solitary. Her life almost seems like a death itself, “grey walls” “grey towers.” And the pathetic fallacy in the poem also is one of death and decay: “willows whiten, aspens quiver”, depicting a season of decay. The Lady of Shallot is curious of the outside world, of Camelot, like Laura is of the goblin fruit.
They both decide to take a leap into the unknown, and unfortunately, only one of them can live. The Lady of Shallots curiosity leads to her falling into her curse, going to Camelot meant death for her. But also death in this poem is a release, a release from her entrapment and encasement. “a gleaming shape she floated by, dead pale”. Her dead body, some say, depicts the death of beautiful and wonderful classical art and classical architecture into the deeply dismal and boring angular industrialised style. When once she was beautiful, she then died and her face was pale and robbed of its previous glamour. A truly tragic and symbolic end to a compellingly gripping tale of love and the release from a life of shadows.
Both the poems have tragedy, love, passion, hate, aggression. Both poems are intense in their vivid imageries and explore deep and delightful boundaries. In Goblin Market the girls are isolated from the harsh realties of the Goblin Men, but when they face them, they are united and they conquer the outside evils which have infiltrated them, and with love they reign supreme. However, the real world kills the Lady Of Shallot, for her love is unrequited, and in the search for love and passion she seals her own fate, and is bound to death, alone and without emancipation.