Study Guide

Barter Happiness

By Sara Teasdale

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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.

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