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This is from the lyrics of "Arthur McBride" by Paul Brady.

...“But,“ says Arthur, “I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes

For you’ve only the lend of them, as I suppose

And you dare not change them one night, for you know

If you do, you’ll be flogged in the morning

And although that we are single and free

We take great delight in our own company

And we have no desire strange faces to see

Although that your offers are charming

And we have no desire to take your advance

All hazards and dangers we barter on chance

For you would have no scruples for to send us to France

Where we would get shot without warning”...

I'm trying to understand the story in detail, but I got caught up in the sentence: "All hazards and dangers we barter on chance". I thought the "barter" is a transitive verb and "All hazards and dangers" is its object, but what do they barter them for? I know the rough meaning of the lyrics(an "anti-recruiting" song) and am not worried much, but I'm curious how to understand this sentence. Could anyone help me understand it?

Thanks in advance,

EDIT: I found this video, where Paul Brady himself didn't understand some words so he even googled them! It brought me some comfort. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpgU6ly5GlY

Refs:

https://genius.com/Paul-brady-arthur-mcbride-lyrics

https://www.irishmusicdaily.com/arthur-mcbride

https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=150029

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBGkhPx529g

3 Answers 3

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Cambridge

barter:
verb [intransitive or transitive]
to exchange goods for other things rather than for money:
He bartered his stamp collection for her comics.
We spent a whole hour bartering with stallholders for souvenirs.

Similarly,

Merriam Webster

barter:
intransitive verb:
To trade by exchanging one commodity for another : to trade goods or services in exchange for other goods or services.
farmers bartering for supplies with their crops.
He bartered with the store's owner.

transitive verb:
to trade or exchange by or as if by bartering
bartering work for food

These hazards and dangers we barter …” is in the order object-subject-verb. Inverting into the normal subject-verb-object, it becomes “We barter all hazards and dangers…”. It refers intransitively to exchanging hazards and dangers among ourselves.

The unpredictable nature of hazards and dangers means that they cannot be bartered (exchanged) between people in the same way as things of certain or quantifiable value such as the dictionary examples of stamps, comics, work and food. The consequences of the barter (the exchange) are not determined by the values, but by chance. Hence ”… by chance.”

As an example poignantly relevant to the poem and its sentiments, my own father and one of his friends came out of a hut during the First World War, having had to accept all its hazards and dangers as a result of conscription. They were heading for the rear of the hut. Father turned left, friend turned right, shell landed on friend’s side of hut and exploded, Father survived, friend died. Such is chance.

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  • Thanks for answering in detail! I was able to grasp the meaning clearly. It helped me a lot. Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 2:28
  • Your are welcome. I believe someone may have marked it down but they left no comment, so we do not know why.
    – Anton
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 7:58
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I wouldn't worry too much about the exact literal meaning of any given line in an English-language traditional Irish folk song. All traditional songs go through a process of being half-heard, half-remembered, repaired and changed and Irish lyrics particularly contain beautiful non-standard phrases which often seem to be inserted for the beauty of their sound and feel rather than for their literal meaning. This phrase is an excellent of example. It does have meaning, of course, but the meaning is conveyed more by suggestion and inference than by literal meaning.

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  • Thanks for your answering. I found this video: youtube.com/watch?v=cpgU6ly5GlY, where Paul Brady himself said some sentences made no sense to him. It goes along with what you are saying. Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 2:34
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To barter is usually understood to exchange as in bartering two goods. Here, the poet is stating that danger is bartered on chance. This is a poetic rendering of the role of chance in life, especially when one chooses to go on a risky mission where the role of chance is more important, and hence "barter[ed] on chance".

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