Study Guide

Barter Themes

  • Choices

    When we shop we make choices: brands, styles, price. In "Barter," Teasdale is asking the reader to choose loveliness. She wants us to buy what life is selling. She offers examples of loveliness to try to influence the reader's decision. She makes a pretty good sales pitch, but ultimately it is up to each of us whether or not to choose loveliness.

    Questions About Choices

    1. Are you buyin' what Teasdale's sellin'? Did the poem persuade you to focus on the sunny side of life? If so, what in the poem sold you?
    2. Teasdale gives us some pretty vivid examples of loveliness in the poem: waves against the cliffs, flickering fire, and a lover's eyes just to name a few. Which example did you find the most compelling? Why? 
    3. What would you add to Teasdale's list of loveliness? What would you delete? Why?

    Chew on This

    Teasdale should stick to poetry, because she is the worst salesperson ever. The world is filled with so many wonderful sights, sounds, smells, and tastes and yet all she could come up with was waves and the smell of wet trees? Weak effort.

    "Barter" is a great deal for readers because, by using simple, universal, beautiful images, she reminds us that loveliness is right in front of us all the time.

  • Time

    There is a sense of impermanence in "Barter." Many of the images that Teasdale uses as examples of life's loveliness are fleeting things—here one minute and gone the next. We definitely get the feeling that the loveliness for sale is a limited time offer.

    Questions About Time

    1. Did you feel a sense of urgency when reading this poem? If you did, what created that feeling? (Note: we're talking about feelings of urgency created by the poem—not by the 5 Diet Cokes you drank trying to stay awake.)
    2. Which image in the first stanza (waves against the cliff, fire, childhood) gives you the greatest sense of impermanence? Why?
    3. Why do you think Teasdale chose to focus on the imagery of impermanence in this poem? Was it a good choice? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    We should take "Barter" at face value and stop trying to make everything so emo. Teasdale isn't trying to show us impermanence or the fleeting nature of beauty; she's just trying to get us to appreciate the world around us. This is a simple poem with a simple message: appreciate life.

    The combination of sweetness and urgency makes this a great poem. It's like dipping a salty fry into a vanilla shake—the sweet and salty balancing each other into perfect blended flavor. In fact, without that secondary saltiness of urgency, this poem might be too sweet to stomach.

  • Happiness

    Teasdale doesn't mention happiness directly in "Barter," but we can certainly see it's meant to be a byproduct of the loveliness that she's peddling: Buy some loveliness, and we'll throw in jumbo-sized happiness absolutely free! Let's take a closer look at how that sales pitch works in the context of the poem.

    Questions About Happiness

    1. Is this a happy poem? If it is, what makes it feel happy (consider content and structure)? If you don't get a sense of happiness from it, what do you feel?
    2. Imagine you are Teasdale's evil twin. You only write negative, dark verse. You are going to write a brooding response to her happy poem. What would life be selling? "Life has blank to sell." Try to pick out a couple nice, dark, negative images to use in your poem as well.
    3. Do you think it is easier to create images that evoke sadness or happiness? Why? How do you think Teasdale would answer this question, based on the poem?

    Chew on This

    If "Barter" doesn't make you happy, you should seek help. Something might be broken.

    Barter is a much more complex poem than it appears at first glance. It isn't just a cute little poem about pretty things.

  • Man and the Natural World

    In "Barter," Teasdale uses primarily natural images as examples of loveliness. She shows us that loveliness is all around. With all those natural images as examples, we get the sense that living life in appreciation of loveliness and beauty is the right, the natural, way to live. Shmoop suddenly wants to go camping—anyone up for s'mores?

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Teasdale relies on nature imagery for her examples of loveliness, but is nature really a lovely place? Ever seen an episode of When Animals Attack
    2. What images would you choose to convey the flip side (the harsh, brutal side) of nature? Which of Teasdale's nature images could go both ways (could be used to represent the loveliness or the brutality of life)?
    3. Why do you think we tend to find nature so beautiful? What is Teasdale asking us to appreciate, specifically, in this poem? 
    4. If you had to pick three nature images to convey loveliness, what would they be? Sara has dibs on the ocean, the forests, and stars. Dig deeper.

    Chew on This

    Teasdale uses nature imagery because there is an underlying sense of danger in nature and this makes the poem more complex and interesting. For example, Teasdale's image of the waves against the cliffs is beautiful, but you wouldn't want to be in that ocean. You surfers in the crowd know that big waves and rocks can be a nasty combo.

    Teasdale uses nature imagery because it is extremely accessible for the average reader. All of her nature images evoke sensory, positive responses in the reader, helping her convey her message that life is lovely.