Barter - (2010)    

Sara Teasdale

for medium voice and piano

 for Steve Spanoudis, of the Poets' Corner

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.

[ 4 pages, circa 3' 45" ]

Sara Teasdale


The text is taken from Teasdale's 1917 publication, Love Songs, and was reprinted in subsequent anthologies. The poet advises that one to "sell all you have for loveliness," and since there is no currency which might purchase such experiences as she enumerates, the title is apt. In life there are always trade-offs and the question remains, as a rabbi and friend of mine from years past asked, "What would you pay for peace of mind?" In like way, Teasdale chides encourages us to make the right decisions, experience the best that life can offer, and experience "one white singing hour of peace."



The setting begins with the juxtaposition between C major and G flat, seemingly distantly related tonal regions yet for the purposes of the song ever close neighbors, and the fulcrum on which the harmonic palette resides.



The stanzas of the poem are not mapped directly onto the musical setting, as the second stanza's opening line finishes the first "verse" of the song. Therefore, now on E flat the second verse begins with the second line of Teasdale's stanza. The setting reprises the tonal region of C before lingeringly coming to its resting cadence on F.





I have used a number of reliable sources, including Poets' Corner, in searching out texts and information for the purposes of song settings. The Poets' Corner was a non-commercial site with nearly 800 poets and eight thousand texts created for the love of poetry itself. Steve Spanoudis was among those who administered the site, and this song setting is in appreciation for the site, among my favorites.


The score for Barter is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.