I’m just gonna say right up front that for all of my belief in beauty and its role in revealing truth and inspiring connection to Mystery, I dislike the premise of this hymn.
The premise – that loveliness costs, that the spiritual and inspirational are currency, that this entire piece is set in a capitalist metaphor – is just terrible in my mind. I get the compulsion to set poet Sara Teasdale’s “Barter” to music, as it celebrates beauty of all sorts. But I hate her frame, and I wonder… given the title, and given the reflection some critics have made that her poetry, for all its lyricism, dealt in part with disillusionment… I wonder if there isn’t some cynicism here. Is there a cost? And is it all too high, is loveliness seemingly too rare?
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, as 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, to buy and never count the cost:
for one singing hour of peace count a year of strife well lost,
and for a breath of ecstasy give all you have been, or could be.
And I find myself in a space of wanting to dig deeper into the literary criticism and forget that this is a hymn, which I sang haltingly, which means others would too, which means no one would pay attention to the lyrics and have time to consider [what “one stinging hour of peace” means]* and why loveliness costs anything anyway.
So – as a hymn, not at all a fan.
As a poem, I’m intrigued because I am put off.
Or maybe I’m thinking too much.
*Edit: so… “stinging hour of peace” is a typo on my part – it’s “singing”. Whoops.