Our Deepest Desires and Our Greatest Fears: One and the Same?

In an incredible coincidence, my roommate asked me to read through Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” with her (in essence, help her analyze it), right after I finished reading John Addington Symonds’ “Love in Dreams.” Immediately I was struck by the similar themes the two shared.

Laura “dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees/False waves in a desert drouth/With shade of leaf-crowned trees,/And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze” (Rosetti, 8). In a similar fashion, the narrator of Symonds’ poem dreams “A dream so dear, so deep,/All dreams above,/That I still pray to sleep” (lines 13-15).

Both characters dream of temptation, what is forbidden: Laura, the goblins’ fairy fruit; Symonds’ narrator, “the soul of youth” (12) – a young man for him to love. Both poems describe the characters only able to access their desires in their dreams: Laura is rendered unable to hear the goblins and thus unable to attain their fruit in her waking hours; Symonds’ narrator is repressing his desire for young men in his waking hours due to societal pressure and intolerance of homosexuality.

Both poems have a couplet rhyme scheme, creating a soothing, nursery-rhyme-like rhythm. “Goblin Market” is intended as a nursery rhyme, according to Rosetti, and “Love in Dreams” seems to be soothing the reader to sleep as the narrator does.

The rhyme scheme of couplets and the theme of temptation that intersect in these poems interact elsewhere as well: medieval-era plays. The couplet rhyme scheme is attributed to devils within these plays, used as they speak to tempt and torment humanity on stage. Indeed, in Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass, the modern devil mocks Iniquity, the medieval demon, for outdated ideas of vice fit for the year 500 (that is, the medieval age) rather than the current year 1616 (I.i.84-86). The 1616 audience would have recognized Iniquity’s medieval speech patterns from other popular medieval plays, such as Mankind. Both poems definitely include major temptations to the characters: goblins tempting Laura in “Goblin Market” and Love tempting the narrator in Symonds’ “Love in Dreams.”

The idea of temptation in dreams is also attributed to Lucifer in the medieval York Plays, tying the two themes together as the two poems do. The idea of humanity as vulnerable while unconscious is embedded deep in our DNA, primal instincts that shape our fears.

Freud would argue that our dreams contain not only fears but also desires – desires so secret and deep that we dare not face them during the day, only accessing them when they slip from the subconscious mind into our dreams. In both Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” and John Addington Symonds’ “Love in Dreams,” both characters Laura and the narrator face deep desires as the subject of both of their dreams. But the real question is whether or not we should we fear these deepest desires appearing in our dreams, and the power they hold over us.

Rosetti, Christina. Goblin Market and Other Poems. Dover Thrift Editions. New York: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.

Ben Jonson. “The Devil is an Ass.” London, 1616. Web. http://www.hollowaypages.com/jonson1692devil.htm