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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sara Teasdale: Bartering For a "Breath of Ecstasy"

 

Barter

By Sara Teasdale 

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.
 
 
 
 
Money, money, money! Cha-ching! I can hear the popular Pink Floyd lyric in my head: "Money, it's a gas. Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash...  Money get back. I'm all right, Jack. Keep your hands off my stack." Some say love of money is the root of all evil. Others call money "a necessary evil." How could we possibly survive without it? Well...
 
Before money, there was barter. Some would even argue that it's not purely a human activity; plants and animals have been bartering—in symbiotic relationships—for millions of years. In human terms, barter refers to the exchange of resources or services for mutual advantage. The practice likely dates back tens of thousands of years, perhaps even to the dawn of modern humans. Even today individuals, organizations, and governments still use, and often prefer, barter as a form of exchange of goods and services.
 
One of the first evidences of bartering is in 6000 BC. The barter system traded all sorts of goods and services, such as weaponry, food, or tea. One problem that was discovered with the barter system in areas such as Mesopotamia was that there was no way to assign a specific value to the goods and services that were being traded.  In the beginning of bartering trade, one of the most popular commodities traded in the barter system was salt, because it was so valuable.

Bartering grew and flourished as people began to travel more during the Middle Ages. The barter system began to be more successful as there were new goods and services being introduced. The Europeans introduced new things into the barter system market that Americans didn’t have access to and also didn’t have the money to afford.

Times of economic woes stimulate bartering. During the Great Depression, one of the most significant time periods throughout the history of bartering, the barter system began to grow very rapidly. Money was scarce and people had a difficult time getting what they needed, so bartering allowed people to get food or clothing they needed, and many businesses even allowed poor people to create such accounts.

So, in many ways, the barter system transcends the monetary system
  
* Barter is universal -- since money varies in value from country to country, bartering is easy to do anywhere in the world. The system uses the fact that some areas and some people have things that aren't always available elsewhere. For example old world explorers traded their goods for items such as spices that were not available in their homelands.

* Direct barter does not require payment in money (which may be in short supply). It can be utilized when there is little information about the credit worthiness of trade partners or there is a lack of trust.

* The poor cannot afford to store their small supply of wealth in money, especially in situations where money devalues quickly (hyperinflation).





"Barter," the Poem


"Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup."


In Sara Teasdale's poem "Barter," the speaker tells us “life has loveliness to sell.” The valuable and readily available wonders of creation are available. The enjoyment of these beautiful things requires no payment in monetary terms. Teasdale is using an extended metaphor of bartering in the verse: comparing the acquisition of meaningful things in life to "buying" items being offered you to purchase.

The poet proposes that we should barter our time and effort for "rich commodities" such as "blue waves, soaring fires, and lovely children's faces." Yet, those of us engrossed in the material world often take these simple "wonders" for granted. In essence, some miss out on the greatest "loveliness for sale." And, certainly, most of us don’t realize the value of the "lovely" things we have in our lives, and we become indifferent to their presence. 

"Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night."


one sells life to gain loveliness like nature, music, wonder, most nice stuff worth selling ones life for. There's a shift then to a much darker message in the poem that sometimes people barter their potential for a breath of ecstasy. There are dire consequences for luxury sometimes. - See more at: http://www.chacha.com/question/what-is-the-summary-of-the-poem-sara-teasdale#sthash.fBBm4qv2.dpuf
one sells life to gain loveliness like nature, music, wonder, most nice stuff worth selling ones life for. There's a shift then to a much darker message in the poem that sometimes people barter their potential for a breath of ecstasy. There are dire consequences for luxury sometimes. - See more at: http://www.chacha.com/question/what-is-the-summary-of-the-poem-sara-teasdale#sthash.fBBm4qv2.dpuf
All around us, sensory delights to please our faculties abound. They are freely available for those who wish to trade their time and energy for barter -- "music" for the ears, "scent" for the nose, "eyes that love" and "arms that hold" for the sight and for the touch.  These are not expensive, monetary purchases, rather spirit-nourishing returns of good-faith bartering. As we open ourselves to the loveliness around us, we receive just payment from nature and loving others.

All of these incredible, lovely things can be "purchased" in the wise, natural bartering of our lives. And, the speaker reminds us in a beautiful celestial image that in perhaps the most valuable trade of all, we can redeem our time for pleasing memories, the thoughtful balm that can console our spirit: in doing so, we invest in our own pleasing, holy "thoughts," like infinite stars of contemplation, to remedy the fears of the darkest, most unnerving "nights."

"Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be."


In the last stanza of "Barter," the speaker uses an imperative: "spend all you have for loveliness, buy it and never count the cost." Of course, we must exercise judgment to follow this command. That judgment is deciding just what "loveliness" denotes. Definitions of a thing which possesses loveliness include "something having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye" or "something that possesses great moral or spiritual beauty."

Teasdale's speaker uses time and emotion to clarify the value of loveliness in our hearts and minds. The speaker advises us to "never count the cost" of bartering for these precious things:

* "One white singing hour of peace" for "many a year of strife,"

* "A breath of ecstasy" for "all you have been, or could be."

Yet, how about the "cost" calculated in the last line of the poem. Is that cost too high? It is difficult to determine Teasdale's meaning of the exaction. As directly stated by the speaker, we are left to understand that one smidgen of ecstasy in our lives is worth literally everything we "have been, or could be." How about what we "are"?

Is the theme of "Barter" to live for each moment of loveliness? Perhaps, Teasdale is exhorting us to find and consume moral and spiritual "loveliness" in the present moment as meaningful "food for the soul." If, indeed, people do not do this, they do not "barter" for those things of real value. Instead, they interpret "loveliness" in fake terms preferring to satisfy shallow, base desires. "Great enjoyment comes only out of great sacrifice" seems to be the maxim that Teasdale extols.

Yet, might the main idea in the last stanza hold a darker meaning? We do know that sometimes people barter all they have, and drive themselves away from happiness and into a dark place, from trying to gain a breath of ecstasy in their lives -- a consequence of living life too freely, and too riskily. Teasdale's tone could be sarcastic here. She may be advising us of the folly of spending "all you have been, or could be" on the intoxication of foolish enchantments.

And, even more disturbing, the poem may serve warning that if humanity continues on a path of pursing happiness at the expense of life (perhaps extended to the living planet), dire consequences are inevitable.


Postscript - The Life of Sara Teasdale

Sara Teasdale (August 8, 1884 - January 29, 1933), was an American lyrical poet. She was born Sarah Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouri. Her first word was "pretty." According to her mother, Sara's love of pretty things was what inspired her poetry.

Throughout her life, Sara suffered poor health. She was always very frail, and caught diseases easily. For most of her life, she had a nurse companion that took care of her in a sheltered atmosphere. Because of that, she was spoiled and waited on like a princess. Sara never had to do normal chores, like make her bed or do the dishes. She never had communication with her peers.

Teasdale grew up around adults. She was known to have described herself as "a flower in a toiling world." She was forced to amuse herself with stories and things that she made up in her own lonesome world.

It was not until Sarah was nine that she was judged healthy enough to begin school - a private school for children just one block away from her home. In 1898 she attended Mary Institute, and the following year she enrolled in Hosmer Hall where she began to put the thoughts and dreams that amused her as a girl onto paper. She graduated from Hosmer in 1903.

Teasdale's influences included the actress Duse, whom she never saw perform, the British poet Christina Rossetti, and numerous trips to Europe, beginning in 1905.

In 1913, Sara was courted by two admirers. The poet Vachel Lindsay fell in love with her and at one point was sending her long, fantastic love letters on a daily basis. He asked her to marry him, but though she had deep feelings for Vachel, she instead married Ernst Filsinger, a businessman, in 1914.

The following year they moved to New York City, which became her home for the rest of her life. Sara and Vachel remained fond but platonic friends throughout their lives, and Lindsay said that she was his life's "most inspiring, most satisfying friend." She was the inspiration for what Lindsay believed to be his greatest poem, "The Chinese Nightingale."

Sara was very much a product of her Victorian upbringing, and she was never able to experience in life the passion that she expressed in her poetry. She was not happy in her marriage, and she divorced Ernst in 1929, against his wishes. Sara's health further declined. On the morning of January 29, 1933, in her New York City apartment, Sara took an overdose of sleeping pills, lay down in a warm bath, fell asleep, and never woke up again. Her last, and some say her finest, collection of verse, Strange Victory, was published posthumously that same year.

Sara Teasdale received public admiration for her well-crafted lyrical poetry which centered on a woman's changing perspectives on beauty, love, and death. Many of Teasdale's poems chart developments in her own life, from her experiences as a sheltered young woman in St. Louis, to those as a successful yet increasingly uneasy writer in New York City, to a depressed and disillusioned person who would commit suicide in 1933. Although many later critics would not consider Teasdale a major poet, she was popular in her lifetime with both the public and critics.


Sara Teasdale
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