The title sets us up to start thinking about choices. When we barter, we have to make decisions about what we are going to accept in exchange for our goods or services—it's all about choice, folks. Teasdale wants to put the reader in that choosing state of mind right from the get go.
Life has loveliness to sell […]
Life has loveliness to sell. (1,7)
We have a salesperson (Life) and they have a product to sell us (loveliness). Were talking shopping here and it's tough to come up with a better example of a time when choice is central. Picture yourself in the grocery store, shoe shopping, car shopping, you name it—it's all about choice, choice, choice. Fruity Pebbles or Lucky Charms? Creepers or Clogs? Ferrari or Lamborghini? Hey, this is kind of fun.
This line puts us in a shopping/choosing frame of mind right from the start and keeps the feeling going when it's repeated about midway through the poem—nice going, Sara.
Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost. (13-14)
Things get a little more hard-sell in lines 13 and 14. The speaker is trying to influence the reader's choice by telling us that the cost shouldn't be a factor in our decision. Think about it. What would it be like to go shopping if money, if price, were no issue at all? Besides being a dream come true, it would make decisions a lot easier. We wouldn't have to weigh cost against necessity. No more would you have to ask yourself, "Do I really need another limited edition Jedi lightsaber?" We could just choose whatever caught our eye.
If you were shopping for a diamond ring, instead of trying to calculate how much you can afford based upon the ol' three-months' salary rule (ouch) you could choose a ring based solely on beauty—on loveliness. Sweet. This is what Teasdale is talking about—choosing to see the loveliness in the world without letting all that "non-lovely" stuff get in the way.
Blue waves whitened on a cliff. (3)
Sure. The ocean is full of waves. If one wave crashes on a cliff, there's a whole ocean of other waves lining up right behind it. So how does a crashing wave represent impermanence? Glad you asked.
Waves are kind of like snowflakes in that no two are identical. So, when that wave you're watching crashes on the cliffs, that's it. That wave is gone forever. Hope you didn't miss it.
Teasdale also makes a point of telling us that the waves are "blue" even though we all probably would have pictured them that way even if she hadn't. The result is a heightened sense of contrast when she describes the waves as "whitened" on the cliff.
Teasdale wants us to realize that things change from moment to moment—blue one second, white the next. If you don't take the time to appreciate things in the moment, you'll miss out. Thanks for the heads-up, Sara.
Soaring fire that sways and sings. (4)
We go from water to fire—another nice contrast. Even though fire and water are about as opposite as you can get, the fire and water imagery function in a pretty similar way in this poem. Teasdale gives us a nice, clear image of the movement and sound of a fire, swaying and singing. Even though Teasdale doesn't follow the fire image through to its conclusion, the first image of the waves crashing on the cliffs puts us in a state of mind to picture these images as progressions: the waves rolling across the sea and then crashing on the cliffs. We see the firing dancing and then, prompted by the previous image, we are likely to see the fire getting lower until it burns out and all we are left with is a pile of black ash. Once again, things change over time.
(Note: The fire image also reminds us of life's progression: young, full of life and color, old and gray, and then ashes to ashes and the end. Keep that in mind as we move to the next image.)
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup. (5-6)
Remember that life thing we said to remember? Here it is again.
Just like with the fire imagery, Teasdale only gives us the first half. But our minds fill in the blank. The same way we get to ash from the fire image, we end up at old age with the image of children. Kids don't stay kids forever. Over time, those little, innocent faces grow up into worldly adults.
Again, we only get the front side of these images. But Teasdale chose images with direct, clear, universal opposites that pop into our heads as soon as one half is introduced: big and small, hot and cold, young and old. Get it?
All beautiful and splendid things. (2)
Beautiful. Splendid. As words go, things don't get much more positive than these two. These words are designed to evoke feelings of pleasure and happiness and they seem to be doing the trick. But this line also works in another way.
This is the second line of the poem. It introduces the three images in stanza 1. But before we get to those images, we are left to consider line 2 all by itself, for just a moment. When we read this line, our minds jump to things we consider beautiful and splendid. Each reader will imagine different objects and occasions. It becomes, in a way, a customized image—each reader picturing what they consider to be the most aesthetically pleasing. Cool. As a result of considering our own personal list of beautiful and splendid things we feel a profound sense of, you guessed it, happiness.
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight. (10-11)
Just like with line 2, these lines are chock-full of happy words. Love and delight jump right out. The lines also describe the eyes and embrace of a loved one—happy, happy, happy. Ask people to list the ingredients of a happy life and you can bet just about everyone is going to include having someone to love and love them back.
And for a breath of ecstasy. (17)
Bust out the ol' pocket dictionary and look up ecstasy. (Forgot it today? No problem, Shmoop has you covered.) It's going to say something like, an overwhelming sense of happiness or joyful excitement. There really isn't a stronger word for happiness out there.
Teasdale waits until the second to last line of the poem to drop the ecstasy bomb on us, but by that point, we could kind of feel it coming. It's remarkable how much happiness Teasdale was able to pack into this poem without ever using the word happiness.
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff. (2-3)
This is the first image in the poem and it is a dramatic one. This first image sets the tone and let's us know that Teasdale is going to look to the natural world for examples of "beautiful and splendid things." Consider how different this poem would be if it started out with a more material example of splendor.
Soaring fire that sways and sings. (4)
Next we've got some fire, but it is swaying and singing (remember that personification thing we talked about back in the summary?).
What happens when we give human qualities to a natural element like fire? Well, it makes it a lot easier to connect with the non-human thing. You can think about it like this: what's easier to relate to: zombies or vampires? Vampires, without a doubt, right? While zombies are only about moaning and feasting on human flesh, vampires still like the finer things in life—a good song, a sweet ride, a nice apartment. We might not share their culinary tendencies or sleeping habits, but they retain way more human traits than zombies do. Bella would never have wanted to follow Edward into zombie-hood—but she just couldn't wait to become a vampire. Think about it.
Yes, Shmoop got off track. Sorry. Here's the point. Teasdale wants us to make a connection between our lives, the enjoyment of our lives, and the natural world. Making fire dance and sing helps to do that because it makes it easier for us to connect with that natural element.
Scent of pine trees in the rain. (9)
This is another good example of how Teasdale is trying to get us to really connect with nature in this poem.
She could have just given us the simple image of pine trees, but that wasn't enough for our girl Sara. She wanted to up the volume. She adds rain and the word scent. By including rain, Teasdale adds the sense of sound to the image. We can almost hear the pitter-patter of the rain through the branches. She also adds the sense of smell by drawing our attention to the scent of the pine trees.
Teasdale gets a lot of bang for her imagistic buck, and it helps us to make a strong connection between the pleasures of being alive and the sensations available to us in nature.