Sexual Violence in “Goblin Market”

Christina Rossetti uses violent words with sexual connotation when describing Lizzie with the Goblins.  I found this quite shocking due to the fact that she was a female writing during the nineteenth century.  Upon first reading “Goblin Market”, I took the strange tale as a reflection upon the Adam and Eve story, but upon further reflection, I found sexual undertones of rape and other violent sexual actions.

The Goblins “trod and hustled her” (309) and “clawed [her] with their nails” (401).  These lines truly exhibit violation of Lizzie’s personal space.  Lizzie is the “Christ-like” character in this poem, but she is beaten by the goblins.  They mock her for her purity and want to stay pure.

The most disturbing line to me was when the goblins “tore her gown and soiled her stockings” (403).  This is the first line that made me think of sexual violation.  They are ripping her clothes off and violating her sacred temple.  My main question, after reading this poem a second time, was, why did Rossetti use sexual innuendos in her poem?  Is she trying to warn her young female readers to abstain for sexual temptation?  Is this a warning?

I don’t know if it is exactly a “warning”, but I think Rossetti is taking a strong stance on the importance of purity.  She finds virginity important and hopes to stay away from sexual temptation like Lizzie.

Should you use this poem on your significant other?

Okay, so reading this the first time through, I thought “oh, how romantic!”  I even sent the poem to my boyfriend because I thought it was so touchingly romantic.  After examining the poem a little more, I feel a little disturbed by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s comparisons to the love she feels.

First off, the beginning of the poem seems a bit calculated.  I mean, the speaker seems to be reminiscing in the morning about her love.  She wants to count the ways she loves him, which to me, doesn’t seem super romantic.  (No one likes math).

In lines 9-10, she compares her love to two quite disturbing things in my opinion.  “I love thee with the passions put to use/In my old griefs” (lines 9-10).  So, I had to do some research to fully understand what “old griefs” meant.  Basically, the speaker is saying that she converts all the intense, bitter feelings into love.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t exactly like if a guy compared his love for me to his bitterness and hatred towards me.

Also, the speaker says she loves him “with my childhood’s faith” (line 10).  Once again, I had to look up the meaning to this, but I found out it meant exactly what it sounds like.  It means the faith we exhibit as children.  (The kind of Santa Clause faith.)  Essentially, she is comparing her love to naivety and simplicity.  This metaphor doesn’t seem super romantic to me because I think love should not be based on ignorance.

Back to my main question…you really should not use “love” poetry to woo your significant other until you thoroughly examine the meaning of the poem.  (It’s a good thing my boyfriend isn’t an English major)

The Dilemma of Falling in Love

In “Sonnet 32”, Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes from the female perspective about being hesitant to enter into a relationship. Instead of a traditional love poem about completely and blindly devoting your life to another person, the speaker of this poem has reservations about entering into a relationship. This poem gives the overall impression that love is something that is delicate and does not last but changes with time. For example, she writes “quick-loving hearts, I thought, may quickly loathe.” The woman in the poem fears loving this man completely because she compares herself to an “out-of-tune worn viol.” This complicates the poem because she does not think she is worthy of him. It reveals her insecurities that he may leave her because he will be unsatisfied in their relationship. Since she is criticizing herself it seems like she wants to have love, but fears she does not deserve this man or that is will not work between them.

This poem is about a woman who is not ready for love because it “seemed too soon.” She still has fears of losing love in the future so she pushes this man away. This mirrors Elizabeth’s own relationship with Robert, she rejected his first marriage proposal because she was not ready to defy and leave her family for a man. I think this poem has a satirical world view because the woman in this poem has a skeptical tone toward loving this man. Since this poem stands out from other traditional love poems, I think Browning may be satirizing society’s expectation of women to fall completely in love in an all-or-nothing manner.

My Great Hesitation


My recent visit with his grace, the Duke, has proved to be quite an interesting character.  During my journey through the grounds, we stopped at a portrait of a young and beautiful woman, his last Duchess.  During my inquiry into her person, he spoke of her beauty, yet countered his compliments with comments of adulterous and shameful actions by her.  For she was “too easily impressed” and had eyes that “went everywhere.”  He spoke of her actions towards other men as being disloyal towards him and his “nine-hundred-years-old name”; however, I interpreted her to be a sweet and compassionate youth.

Herein lies my hesitation.  I know it is his grace’s best interest to marry his daughter to this man, but as a humble and trustworthy servant, I wish you to reconsider.  This man, the Duke, has a twisted sense of love and compassion.  He chose this young beautiful wife and then “gave commands” resulting in, what I interpreted, as her ultimate demise.  He personifies a malicious version of love, a one-sided and narcissistic affection.  He expects his wife to be devoted and cherish him while showing no emotion towards her.  This belief of mine is exemplified in how the Duke describes what occurred, and upon the conclusion of my inquiry, simply continued walking as if she was nothing but an object he desired but not treasured.

While this may seem rather satirical your grace, I hope I am not overstepping my bounds.  This ludicrous idea of love the Duke brings quite a comical yet sad feeling to my heart.  How does he expect such a compassionate lover and has no desire to return such an intense level of love?

Your faithful servant,

Frá Pandolf


If that’s not self-sacrificing sentimentalism I don’t know what is.

In this poem, I feel as though the overall impression created by Elizabeth is a fearful one. This seems very prominent due to the argument she offers in line four. “And quickly tied to make a lasting troth.” The quote is Elizabeth’s way of saying she wants the relationship to work but if love is rushed it could lead to failure and regret. Later in the poem the author refers to herself as a worn viol. This line is important because it shows the author is not completely without love for the suitor. In fact Elizabeth says she’s so infatuated that she fears not being good enough. She continues to say she does not want to be does not want to be thrown down at the first wrong move. I believe this poem is truly sentimental. Upon reading it the tone is one of fear, but the fear does not stem from a woman who wants to hold out for a better suitor; In fact she is afraid of losing the man she loves due to her inadequacies. Because we know Elizabeth wrote this it is clear she loved her husband. She was willing to leave her family and virtually have no connection with them for the remainder of her life in order to be with him. If that’s not self-sacrificing sentimentalism I don’t know what is.

Reality, Insecurity, and Complexity

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 32 highlights the challenging and complex side of love that is so often missed by young people. The opening couplet discusses how the speaker on the day after her wedding “looked forward to the moon”. It appears to me that the rush of early love is now gone in the speaker’s heart and the reality of marriage, and the life she faces ahead, finally hitting her. This taste of reality the speaker is experiencing can be paired with her feelings of inadequacy found in the center section of the poem, to show another layer of depth to the poem.

The speaker also has a low view of herself in the center section of the poem. “I seemed not one for such a man’s love” she even goes so far as to see herself as a potential “spoil to his song” and views that “she has placed a wrong on thee”. All of this shows an incredible and unfair burden that the speaker is placing on herself, and I believe is Browning’s way of revealing the insecurity that is so often present in relationships.

In the end, I believe that this poem is a sentimental work, that reveals the challenges and insecurities that are so often present in human relationships. Above all this poem is real, and embodies the complexity of love.

The Real World: Love

Elizabeth Browning ends Sonnet 43 with, “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life: and, if God choose, I shall love thee better after death.”

Throughout this poem E.B.B. is attempting to measure love. The initial measurements make sense, but these last lines puzzled me. Why would she love Robert “better after death?”

During the tour of the Armstrong Browning Library, I learned a lot about the Brownings. Elizabeth was a very sickly woman for her entire life. Because of this, she never expected to be married or have a life of her own. She died when her and Robert’s son was only twelve years old. So, maybe when she refers to loving Robert after she passes, she is preparing them for her death. It reminded me of the end of marriage vows: ‘till death do us part.’ Elizabeth may be reminding Robert that even though they may part sooner than planned, she will still love him from wherever she his.

This poem paints a very romantic, yet realistic picture of love. Just because you love someone, does not mean that all of your problems magically disappear. Sometimes, more problems appear because now you are combing the problems of another person with yours. E.B.B. is acknowledging that even though their love is strong and passionate, they both will not live forever. This poem is a sentimental look at love and a reminder that we need to cherish the people we love while they are with us.

1 Corinthians 13

My favorite chapter of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13.   I think about it so often that it may have filtered my reading of Robert Browning’s poem, “Love among the ruins”.  Perhaps my passion for what love is in the Bible influenced my overall impression of what love is in this poem.  In both, I see and I believe that love is valuable.  1 Corinthians 13 describes love as worth more than all other capacities.  Verse 2 declares, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”.  Browning upholds this idea of love as valuable in the way he portrays it outlasting the glory of man.  He depicts “a multitude of men” and “their triumphs and their glories and all the rest!” however, like 1 Corinthians 13, he ends with a sharp conclusion about love; that despite all powerful feats, “love is the best”.   Browning thoroughly describes an ancient city and its past glory as ephemeral.   He compares material victories to “gold bought and sold” suggesting that, unlike the power of love; the powers of men are transient.

If Browning compares the glories of men with gold, I want to know what love looks like…and this is what complicates my initial sentiment.  The only image I find of love in this poem is “a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair”.  Here, I wonder, why does Browning focus on her physical appearance? And what is there to be said about her “yellow” hair? Is this a subtle reference to gold? But then, how can this agree with my initial supposition that gold and love are of two different and unequal natures?  My sentimental resolution is that yellow is an analogy not to gold but to light.  As for the eager eyes, I confide in Audrey Hepburn to make sense of this comparison: “the beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides”.

The Waste Land: Section Four

Death by Water

Section four of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” is the shortest section, but it is still quite significant to the poem.  In summary: Phlebas has died by drowning.  In his death he has “passed the stages of his age and youth” and has forgotten about the typical worldly concerns.  Eliot seems to present a simple message, but it is the latter half of this section that reveals more of what Eliot is trying to convey to his audience.

What is interesting about Phlebas’s death is how Eliot describes it.  He “rose and fell,” indicating a sort of cyclical event (line 316).  Once his body is in the sea, the ocean “picked his bones” (line 316).  Section four lacks sympathy; one could almost accuse Eliot of apathy, for he does not romanticize the death scene at all.  Linking his death to a cyclical event doesn’t give his death much importance at all.  The image of the ocean picking Phlebas’s bones is grotesque, but we have to wonder why they ocean current does this Phlebas’s body.  Phlebas is not special to the ocean.  He is just another body, insignificant and unimportant.  Eliot’s footnote on the title of the section states that “this section has been interpreted as signifying death by water without resurrection” (emphasis added).  Phlebas is not going to resurrect from his watery grave, nor will he ever see life on Earth again.  By pairing the above images and this footnote, it is clear that Eliot does not consider Phlebas’s death important because death happens to everyone.  All will die.

But is this death supposed to be a bad thing?  For the entire poem, Eliot describes a waste land, and we get an idea of how terrible a place this really is.  In the second section of the poem, recall that Madame Sosostris pulls a card of a “drowned Phoenician sailor,” and warns “Fear death by water” (lines 47, 55).  Phlebas confirms what Sosostris warns, dying by drowning.  However, in the section following “Death by Water,” images of water are used greatly.  Often Eliot repeats “if there were only water” in conjunction with the desolate and barren images in section five.  The phrase “if only” indicates a deep need and hope for water; it is ardently desired in section five, though Phlebas died by water.  Perhaps Phlebas’s death could be seen as a release from the present waste land.  Now that Phlebas is dead, he does not have to endure a dreadful life as described throughout the entire poem; sadness, anger, and death do not affect him anymore.  He is now beyond this earthly realm, so could death by water be an escape?

Could dying be better than living in the Waste Land?

United Nations

In the fifth and final stanza of Eliot’s The Waste Land, the “wasteland” is physically portrayed as a dry mountain area. Metaphorically, this is the world of sorrow and war. This section seems to become more global, since it does not have specific depictions of any one character, as the previous sections had. Therefore, this final section seems to be representative of a universal wasteland rather than any one in particular nation.

One of the most important imageries in this stanza is the water imagery, or the lack of water. As the stanza goes on however, Eliot reveals the wind which he says is, “bringing rain” (Eliot 395). With the rain comes hope. The water in the dry land represents a solution found in man. The dry land, or the warring world, seems natural and unavoidable, yet the key to the rain is in the behavior of man when he listens to natural law, in this case, thunder.

The importance of what the thunder says is revealed in the footnote. The “Da” references an Indian fable in which thunder commands to “control yourself”, “give”, and “be compassionate” (401). The rain in this dry wasteland comes when man learns to be moral, give, and be compassionate. The only alleviation from the drought in this world is for humanity to come together. The rain, for Eliot, is provided by man being compassionate to his fellow man. The drought in the wasteland is the war brought on when men are selfish and uncontrollable.

Although Eliot does imply some sort of hope certainly, the wasteland remains isolated. The prison imagery leads us in to the ending. Eliot leaves us with a reminder that, “thinking of the key, each confirms a prison” (415). He provides an answer saying to unite, but he admits that humanity cannot come together entirely. Even as men and nations work together, individuals will always be locked alone in his own psyche. Coupled with Eliot’s note on Bradley’s quote, “…the whole world for each is particular and private to that soul”, the prison imagery reveals to the reader that even as nations unite, they can and must always be separate, even as individuals are separate (2308).

As in the first stanza, Eliot is speaking to the nations during war. He believes that they must work together, or the world will always be a wasteland. No nation is exempt. He references many different literatures from different languages to tell all peoples that they must be responsible for this natural law, no exception. In the twentieth century the world becomes more global creating new problems which cause world wars. As the world becomes more global, so does Eliot’s fifth stanza when he deals with these issues and states that the nations must make a bond, yet they cannot give up their individuality. No Hitler should bring them together as one nation, but they each have a command, given by nature, to hold true to national responsibility, and only then will there be “shantih”, or a peace above all understanding (434.) Until then, there will always be war.

The Use of “Young” in The Cry of the Children

In her poem, “The Cry of the Children,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning repeatedly emphasizes the youth of the children. What purpose does this serve? Aren’t all children already assumed to be young? From a more technical point of view, a “child” is anyone under the age of eighteen. In using the phrase, “young children,” Browning may be simply indicating that her subject matter is under the age of ten rather than an adolescent nearing adulthood. Browning’s repeated use of the adjective “young” to describe the children could also serve to further highlight the discrepancy between their age and their attitude towards life. Even though it is generally understood that children are young by virtue of being children, Browning may be using repetition to insure that her audience fully comprehends how young the poem’s subjects are to be so downtrodden and depressed.In continually emphasizing the young age of the poem’s subjects, Browning could be trying remind her readers of the connotations generally associated with youth–vitality, innocence, eagerness, and optimism–and then point out how many of these qualities the children lack. Use of the word “young” could also serve as a contrast to the word “old,” which is also used repeatedly throughout the poem.

Browning’s Cry Against Men

Why does “The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning paint men in a negative light? The poem portrays women as nurturers of these children in poverty. The poem claims that the children are “weeping sore before the bosom of their mothers” (23). Masculinity, however, is not presented in such a positive way. It is the “Father land” in which the children are weeping (line 24). The poem is directed at “O my brothers” (1). In these cases men are indifferent, both society’s men that makes up the fatherland and readers.

This could be because the men of society have the power to change the children’s situations. After all, the men are the captains of industry. Men hold the power to vote and reform the system in favor of these children. Not a single father is mentioned in this poem; perhaps she calls the men of society to be the fathers to these fatherless children by means of practical aid.

Or maybe the male figure in the fathers place reminds us of God to whom the children call saying, “our Father” (115). These children are “orphans of the earthly love and heavenly” (147). Browning could be claiming that the situation of the children is not simply a physical poverty, but a spiritual lack due to neglect from society to show God’s love to these children. Maybe it is not only physical need that society owes these children, but the spiritual love of God. After all, “For God’s possible is taught by His world’s loving” (135).

“Anthology of British Literature (3rd set of readings)” English 3351 course handout. Baylor University. Spring 2012.