Values Told in Verse

It’s fitting that today, as my young daughter tours a faraway country with her choir (and her mommy misses her dearly), I’m thinking about a special song she performed earlier in the season.

I was drawn to the lyrics when I first heard her at practice. Now, bear in mind that practically every week she’s assigned about ninety thousand news songs to learn by heart, so a lot of lyrics come and go in our living room. But these words particularly grabbed me.

They’re taken from a hundred-year-old poem, “Barter,” by American poet Sara Teasdale. Someone set the words to choral music (it sounds beautiful, by the way; here’s a choir in California to prove it).

From what I can tell, “Barter” is about the value of life’s loveliness: those small but oh-so-important bits like the beauty of nature, the wonder of a child, the embrace of a friend. And I think (but I’m not sure, having forgotten to get a Ph.D. in literature studies) that the poet is saying it’s worth giving up everything you have – your riches, your time, your sweat – for even a moment of life’s loveliness.

Do you agree? This explains in part why people can make such sacrifices to help others, to make even a brief human connection, to gain a momentary sense of reward. Life’s loveliness is worth everything. Here’s the full poem:


Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count 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.

(Sara Teasdale, 1884-1933)

3 responses to “Values Told in Verse

  1. This is lovely, Lisa, and I’m sure your daughter’s choir does a wonderful job singing this. I’ve often been moved by song lyrics–and sometime by poetry. It’s wonderful that there are so many songs and poems that can move people to either thought or action–or the thought of action.

  2. Thank you, Christine! Given that it’s afternoon and I haven’t had enough coffee today, right now for me it’s definitely the thought of action, rather than the action! But I love the images in this poem, so even the thoughts are a treat.

  3. Pingback: Open Home, Open Arms | 50 Good Deeds

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