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Themes in Barter

Themes Examples in Barter:

Text of the Poem

🔒 4

"And for a breath of ecstasy Give all you have been, or could be...."   (Text of the Poem)

The narrator invites us into a state of surrender. The price for “a breath of ecstasy” is the abandonment of the self. The egoic identity is generally defined by past action and future possibility—in other words, “all you have been, or could be.” The cost, our side of the barter, is thus twofold: our sense of self and our sense of time.

"singing..."   (Text of the Poem)

The word “singing” points back to the narrator’s praise of “music like a curve of gold.” In “Barter,” Teasdale frames music and singing as beautiful, redemptive acts. The poem itself serves in such a role as well. With its song-like form and attention to sound, “Barter” comes to exemplify the very music it praises. Indeed, one of the oldest poetic themes is poetry’s ability to transform pain into beauty.

"Holding wonder like a cup. ..."   (Text of the Poem)

In a sense, the figure of the children’s faces “holding wonder like a cup” represents the perspective of the poem itself. The poem invites us to appreciate and enjoy the loveliness of the world. Thus the poem’s narrator, and in turn the reader, similarly “hold[s] wonder like a cup.”

"Life has loveliness to sell—..."   (Text of the Poem)

Teasdale establishes the poem’s conceit in the opening line. The poem is, to a great extent, an account of “loveliness,” of the world’s many sources of beauty. Yet, from the start, the poem contains tension: we know that all this beauty comes at a cost, but Teasdale does not reveal the cost until the final stanza.

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