Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Spend all you have for loveliness, Buy it and never count the cost;
- The third stanza's first line breaks the refrain, or pattern set up by the poem's first two stanzas. She doesn't start with that same old sales pitch: "Life has loveliness to sell."
- This change gives us a little jolt. It gets the reader's attention—kind of like when you think the milk carton is full, but it's actually almost empty and, when you pick it up, you almost throw it through the ceiling. When something isn't how you expect it to be, you notice.
- The change refocuses our attention. Teasdale wants to make sure we are tuned in for the home stretch.
- In lines 13 and 14 the speaker talks directly to the reader again, this time directing us to buy all the loveliness life has to offer, no matter 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.
- The poem's last four lines explain why we should buy all that loveliness even if it breaks the bank.
- Remember that pin we stuck way back in the first stanza, in the word sell? Well, it's here in these last four lines that we finally find out what life demands in exchange for all that loveliness. Remember, the title is "Barter," so this isn't going to be a cash transaction.
- The speaker argues that just one hour of the "peace" that comes from an appreciation of life's loveliness is worth many years of strife and hardship—that all of life's difficulties are worth it for just a "breath" of the "ecstasy" life's loveliness can provide.
- An appreciation of the simple, lovely things in life is more important than the past ("all you have been") or the future (all you "could be").
- So, there it is. The cost of loveliness is a willingness to endure life's hardships and pain. Is it a good deal? Our speaker sure seems to think so. How about you?