Explain the lines "And for a breath of ecstasy / Give all you have been, or could be" in "Barter."

Quick answer:

In the last two lines of the poem "Barter," the speaker emphasizes that it is worth living life to the full and giving everything you have for even a moment of pure ecstasy. To the speaker, this ecstatic joy can be found in waves crashing against a cliff, a campfire, the wondering faces of children, music, natural scents, holding loved ones, contemplative thoughts, and other seemingly small things.

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In the poem "Barter" by Sara Teasdale, the speaker gives numerous examples of the "loveliness" of life, in other words, some of the greatest and profoundest things that life has to offer. These include the beauty of waves striking a cliff, a glowing fire, the wonder in the faces of children, music with golden notes, the smell of pine trees, the embrace of loved ones, and contemplative thoughts on a starlit night.

The speaker remarks that life sells these gifts and admonishes readers to spend everything they have for this loveliness without counting the cost. However, the speaker is not talking about money as the price of these joys. Instead, the price of a brilliant "hour of peace" might be "many a year of strife," and the price of "a breath of ecstasy" is to "give all you have been, or could be."

What the speaker is saying through these statements is that the price of true peace or ecstasy is to give everything to life and hold nothing back, to live life to the full, to commit to life wholeheartedly. Only then can readers hope to discover and embrace life's true riches, which are all the seemingly little things that the speaker mentioned earlier: the wonderful sights, sounds, scents, sensations, and thoughts that make life worthwhile.

The meaning of ecstasy as intended in this poem is to be in a state of overwhelming emotion. We see, then, that the speaker is indicating that it is a fair exchange to give everything you have to achieve even a moment of pure ecstasy.

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