Common Core: 12th Grade English Language Arts : Interpret and analyze figures of speech in context: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.11-12.5.A

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Example Question #1 : Interpret And Analyze Figures Of Speech In Context: Ccss.Ela Literacy.L.11 12.5.A

Adapted from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in Leaves of Grass (1855)


Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.


The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others. 

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide. 


It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams . . .

Which of the following is personified in section three of the poem?

Possible Answers:

Sea gulls


The summer sky

The river

Correct answer:

The river


This question tests not only your knowledge of a specific kind of figurative language, but also your ability to recognize that figure of speech in the context in which it appears.

The first leg of this race is simply knowing, or being able to surmise, the meaning of "personification." When something is "personified" that (non-human) object, animal, or idea is ascribed human traits or qualities. So let's look at our options: all of them are non-human objects, and thus all could, in theory, be personified. The key to this question, if you want to do it as quickly as possible, is to scan the words and phrases surrounding the highlighted terms for language relating to human actions, feelings, or thoughts.

The key term here is "gladness," which is ascribed to "the river." "Gladness is a particularly obvious personifying element since it is feeling. Rivers, even ones as storied as the one discussed here, do not feel glad, nor do they have any feelings at all. So, "gladness" personifies "the river."

Example Question #2 : Interpret And Analyze Figures Of Speech In Context: Ccss.Ela Literacy.L.11 12.5.A

Adapted from “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings” (1900) by William James

Some years ago, while journeying in the mountains of North Carolina, I passed by a large number of 'coves,' as they call them there, or heads of small valleys between the hills, which had been newly cleared and planted. The impression on my mind was one of unmitigated squalor. The settler had in every case cut down the more manageable trees, and left their charred stumps standing. The larger trees he had girdled and killed, in order that their foliage should not cast a shade. He had then built a log cabin, plastering its chinks with clay, and had set up a tall zigzag rail fence around the scene of his havoc, to keep the pigs and cattle out. Finally, he had irregularly planted the intervals between the stumps and trees with Indian corn, which grew among the chips; and there he dwelt with his wife and babes--an axe, a gun, a few utensils, and some pigs and chickens feeding in the woods, being the sum total of his possessions.

The forest had been destroyed; and what had 'improved' it out of existence was hideous, a sort of ulcer, without a single element of artificial grace to make up for the loss of Nature's beauty. Ugly, indeed, seemed the life of the squatter, scudding, as the sailors say, under bare poles, beginning again away back where our first ancestors started, and by hardly a single item the better off for all the achievements of the intervening generations.

“Talk about going back to nature!” I said to myself, oppressed by the dreariness, as I drove by. Talk of a country life for one's old age and for one's children! Never thus, with nothing but the bare ground and one's bare hands to fight the battle! Never, without the best spoils of culture woven in! The beauties and commodities gained by the centuries are sacred. They are our heritage and birthright. No modern person ought to be willing to live a day in such a state of rudimentariness and denudation.

Then I said to the mountaineer who was driving me, "What sort of people are they who have to make these new clearings?" "All of us," he replied. "Why, we ain't happy here, unless we are getting one of these coves under cultivation." I instantly felt that I had been losing the whole inward significance of the situation. Because to me the clearings spoke of naught but denudation, I thought that to those whose sturdy arms and obedient axes had made them they could tell no other story. But, when they looked on the hideous stumps, what they thought of was personal victory. The chips, the girdled trees, and the vile split rails spoke of honest sweat, persistent toil and final reward. The cabin was a warrant of safety for self and wife and babes. In short, the clearing, which to me was a mere ugly picture on the retina, was to them a symbol redolent with moral memories and sang a very pæan of duty, struggle, and success.

I had been as blind to the peculiar ideality of their conditions as they certainly would also have been to the ideality of mine, had they had a peep at my strange indoor academic ways of life at Cambridge.

Which of the following are personified in the passage?

Possible Answers:





Correct answer:



This question interrogates your understanding of a specific piece of figurative language by testing your ability to read a passage and find an instance of that literary device on your own, without having had a section of the text specified for you.

Although it is not the most profound of personifications, trees are personified in the fourth paragraph, where the author writes, "The chips, the girdled trees, and the vile split rails spoke of honest sweat. . ." The word "to speak" does have a secondary meaning that means "testifying to something." This general idea of testifying (or synonymous activities) is a kind of personification when it comes to beings like trees, which certainly do no testifying—at least in the manner that humans may testify to some facts or ideas.

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