SAT II Literature : Characterization and Motivation: Poetry

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Characterization And Motivation: Poetry

1    Devouring time, blunt thou the lion's paws,

2    And Make the earth devour her own sweet brood; 

3    Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,

4    And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood; 

5    Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet'st

6    And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed time,

7    To the wide world and all her fading sweets;

8    But I forbid thee one most heinous crime, 

9    O carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,

10  Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen.

11  Him in thy course untainted do allow,

12  For yet beauty's pattern to succeeding men.

13     Yet do thy worst, old time; despite thy wrong,

14     My love shall in my verse ever live young. 

 

(1609)

What "crime" is the poet forbidding time to commit? 

Possible Answers:

None of the answers 

Causing the poet to eventually forget some of his memories

Speeding up time 

Killing the poet

Causing the poet's lover to age 

Correct answer:

Causing the poet's lover to age 

Explanation:

The poet is forbidding time to commit the crime of causing the poet's lover to age. "O carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow, / Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen" (lines 9-10) suggests that time draws lines on the poet's love's fair brow; the lines can be understood as wrinkles because wrinkles can look as if they are lines carved into skin.

 

(Passage adapted from "Sonnet 19" by William Shakespeare)

Example Question #2 : Characterization And Motivation: Poetry

1    'So careful of the type?' but no.


2    From scarped cliff and quarried stone


   She cries, `A thousand types are gone:


   I care for nothing, all shall go.




 

5   'Thou makest thine appeal to me:


6    I bring to life, I bring to death:


   The spirit does but mean the breath:


8    I know no more.' And he, shall he,




 

9    Man, her last work, who seem'd so fair,


10  Such splendid purpose in his eyes,


11  Who roll'd the psalm to wintry skies,


12  Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,




 

13  Who trusted God was love indeed


14  And love Creation's final law—


15  Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw


16 With ravine, shriek'd against his creed—




 

17 Who loved, who suffer'd countless ills,


18  Who battled for the True, the Just,


19 Be blown about the desert dust,


20  Or seal'd within the iron hills?




 

21  No more? A monster then, a dream,


22 A discord. Dragons of the prime,


23  That tare each other in their slime,


24 Were mellow music match'd with him.




 

25  O life as futile, then, as frail!


26  O for thy voice to soothe and bless!


27  What hope of answer, or redress?


28  Behind the veil, behind the veil.

                                         (1849)

Answer the following with the best possible answer:

Throughout this excerpt, the poet experiences a/an __________.

Possible Answers:

disappearing trust in science 

questioning of faith 

agonizing death of a loved one 

reviving hope 

lessening of hope 

Correct answer:

questioning of faith 

Explanation:

Throughout this excerpt, the poet experiences a questioning of faith. The poet says that "Man, her last work . . ." (line 9) has "trusted God was love indeed / And love Creation's final law—
" (lines 13-14), but Nature, or Creation (because line 9 implies that Nature created man), is "red in tooth and claw / with ravine, shrik'd against his creed—" (lines 15-16) ("Creed" is faith). Love is not Nature's final law according to this imagery, and not according to the poet's reference to the extinction of dinosaurs in lines 1-4: "'So careful of the type?' but no. / From scarped cliff and quarried stone / She cries, `A thousand types are gone: / I care for nothing, all shall go." 



(Passage adapted from "In Memorium A. H. H." by Alfred Lord Tennyson, LVI.1-28) 

 






Example Question #3 : Characterization And Motivation: Poetry

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

 

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.(5)

 

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil,

     this air,

Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and

     their parents the same,

I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,

Hoping to cease not till death.

What central impression does the speaker give about himself in this passage?

Possible Answers:

Conspiracy

Vitality

Lethargy

Stinginess

Lassitude

Correct answer:

Vitality

Explanation:

Even though the speaker notes a tendency to “loafe,” this is only one action in a broader celebration of life and is not an indication of lethargy or lassitude. There is no secrecy or conspiring in this passage, nor is there stinginess (in fact, there’s marked generosity). This leaves us with vitality, a celebratory embracing of life.

Passage adapted from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass (1855).

Example Question #4 : Characterization And Motivation: Poetry

1 Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell: 
  No god, no demon of severe response, 
  Deigns to reply from heaven or from hell. 
  Then to my human heart I turn at once--
5 Heart! Thou and I are here sad and alone; 
  Say, wherefore did I laugh? O mortal pain! 
  O darkness! darkness! ever must I moan, 
  To question heaven and hell and heart in vain! 
9 Why did I laugh? I know this being's lease--
  My fancy to its utmost blisses spreads: 
  Yet could I on this very midnight cease, 
  And the world's gaudy ensigns see in shreds.
13  Verse, fame, and beauty are intense indeed, 
      But death intenser--death is life's high meed.

(1819)

The speaker finds his laughter strange and absurd because of _______________.

Possible Answers:

the impossibility of understanding his heart

the inevitability of death

the emptiness of his worldly accomplishments

the silence of both god and demons

his constant unhappiness

Correct answer:

the inevitability of death

Explanation:

The speaker in this poem finds his laughter and happiness absurd because of the inevitability of death. He repeatedly asks himself why he laughs. He also repeatedly mentions his awareness of death as a reason why laughter should not be possible or sensible. For example, "O mortal pain!," "I know this being's lease," and the last line, "But death intenser--death is life's high meed," all are references to the fact that death is what is troubling the speaker and making him question his laughter.

Passage adapted from "Why did I laugh tonight?" by John Keats (1819)

Example Question #5 : Characterization And Motivation: Poetry

… Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek… She had

A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er    (5)

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule    (10)

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked

Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name    (15)

With anybody’s gift.

(1842)

Who is the speaker in relation to the Duchess?

Possible Answers:

An impartial observer

A painter

An “officious fool”

Her husband

A distant relative

Correct answer:

Her husband

Explanation:

We can tell in the final lines of this passage that the duchess received the “gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” from the speaker. Since the duchess would receive the gift of a last name through marriage, we can safely infer that the speaker is her husband.

Passage adapted from Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” (1842) 

Example Question #5 : Characterization And Motivation

Adapted from "The Mouse’s Petition" in Poems by Anna Letitia Barbauld (1773)


Found in the trap where he had been confined all night by Dr. Priestley, for the sake of making experiments with different kinds of air

“To spare the humbled, and to tame in war the proud.” - Virgil

 

OH! hear a pensive captive's prayer,
For liberty that sighs;
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the prisoner's cries.

For here forlorn and sad I sit,

Within the wiry grate;
And tremble at th' approaching morn,

Which brings impending fate.

If e'er thy breast with freedom glow'd,
And spurn'd a tyrant's chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain.

Oh! do not stain with guiltless blood
Thy hospitable hearth;
Nor triumph that thy wiles betray'd
A prize so little worth.

The scatter'd gleanings of a feast
My scanty meals supply;
But if thine unrelenting heart
That slender boon deny,

The cheerful light, the vital air,
Are blessings widely given;
Let nature's commoners enjoy
The common gifts of heaven.

The well-taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives;
Casts round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.

If mind, as ancient sages taught,
A never dying flame,
Still shifts thro' matter's varying forms,
In every form the same,

Beware, lest in the worm you crush
A brother's soul you find;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind.

Or, if this transient gleam of day
Be all of life we share,
Let pity plead within thy breast,
That little all to spare.

So may thy hospitable board
With health and peace be crown'd;
And every charm of heartfelt ease
Beneath thy roof be found.

So when unseen destruction lurks,
Which men like mice may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.

Which of the following is the best example of anti-science bias in the passage?

Possible Answers:

The poet's characterization of Dr. Priestley as "a tyrant" is clearly inflammatory and prejudicial.

The poet's characterization of the "philosophic mind" as expansive and compassionate is clearly set up in opposition to the scientific method, which is characterized as "transient" and short-term in its thinking.

In the note preceding the poem, the author specifically mentions "the trap" in which the mouse has "been confined," but is vague about the "experiments with different kinds of air."

Throughout the poem, the mouse is figured as a thoughtful, sentient being with mental traits equal to those of humans, which is clearly scientifically inaccurate.

The poet's invocation of "ancient sages" demonstrates a religious frame of reference that is clearly incommensurate with scientific discourse.

Correct answer:

In the note preceding the poem, the author specifically mentions "the trap" in which the mouse has "been confined," but is vague about the "experiments with different kinds of air."

Explanation:

Of the answers provided, the most obvious evidence of bias can be found in the language of the note preceding the poem. The specificity about the mouse's condition, combined with the vagueness about the actual nature or possible benefits of the scientific experiment.

Throughout the poem, the mouse is figured as on ethical par with all sentient beings, there is no specific claim that the mouse's mental capacity equals that of humans.

While the poet does characterize the "well-taught philosophic mind" as expansive and compassionate, "transient" is used to refer to the "gleam of day," and little is said directly in critique of scientific thinking.

The poet does not characterize Dr. Priestley as a tyrant, but rather draws attention to his having "spurn'd a tyrant's chain," probably a reference to his anti-tyrannical political views.

Example Question #6 : Characterization And Motivation: Poetry

Adapted from “Solitary Death, make me thine own” in Underneath the Bough: A Book of Verses by Michael Field (pseudonym of Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper) (1893)

 

Solitary Death, make me thine own,

And let us wander the bare fields together;

          Yea, thou and I alone

Roving in unembittered unison forever.

 

I will not harry thy treasure-graves,

I do not ask thy still hands a lover;

            My heart within me craves

To travel till we twain Time’s wilderness discover.

 

To sojourn with thee my soul was bred,

And I, the courtly sights of life refusing,

            To the wide shadows fled,

And mused upon thee often as I fell a-musing.

 

Escaped from chaos, thy mother Night,

In her maiden breast a burthen that awed her,

           By cavern waters white

Drew thee her first-born, her unfathered off-spring toward her.

 

On dewey plats, near twilight dingle,

She oft, to still thee from men’s sobs and curses

           In thine ears a-tingle,

Pours her cool charms, her weird, reviving chaunt rehearses.

 

Though mortals menace thee or elude,

And from thy confines break in swift transgression.

            Thou for thyself art sued

Of me, I claim thy cloudy purlieus my possession.

 

To a long freshwater, where the sea

Stirs the silver flux of the reeds and willows,

            Come thou, and beckon me

To lie in the lull of the sand-sequestered billows:

 

Then take the life I have called my own

And to the liquid universe deliver;

            Loosening my spirit’s zone,

Wrap round me as thy limbs the wind, the light, the river.

In the poem, “Death” is personified as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

A long-desired companion

The captain of a ship

A lover

A mother

A thief

Correct answer:

A long-desired companion

Explanation:

In this poem, death is personified (and addressed) as a long-desired companion. While the description of the relationship sounds quite intimate, the speaker specifically states that he or she “do[es] not ask thy still hands a lover.” Death is often characterized as a thief in literature, but this piece is subverting that trope. "Night" is personified as death’s “mother,” and while the river is discussed at length, death is taking the speaker to the river, not ferrying the speaker across it on a boat.

Example Question #2 : Inferences

Adapted from “Solitary Death, make me thine own” in Underneath the Bough: A Book of Verses by Michael Field (pseudonym of Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper) (1893)

 

Solitary Death, make me thine own,

And let us wander the bare fields together;

          Yea, thou and I alone

Roving in unembittered unison forever.

 

I will not harry thy treasure-graves,

I do not ask thy still hands a lover;

            My heart within me craves

To travel till we twain Time’s wilderness discover.

 

To sojourn with thee my soul was bred,

And I, the courtly sights of life refusing,

            To the wide shadows fled,

And mused upon thee often as I fell a-musing.

 

Escaped from chaos, thy mother Night,

In her maiden breast a burthen that awed her,

           By cavern waters white

Drew thee her first-born, her unfathered off-spring toward her.

 

On dewey plats, near twilight dingle,

She oft, to still thee from men’s sobs and curses

           In thine ears a-tingle,

Pours her cool charms, her weird, reviving chaunt rehearses.

 

Though mortals menace thee or elude,

And from thy confines break in swift transgression.

            Thou for thyself art sued

Of me, I claim thy cloudy purlieus my possession.

 

To a long freshwater, where the sea

Stirs the silver flux of the reeds and willows,

            Come thou, and beckon me

To lie in the lull of the sand-sequestered billows:

 

Then take the life I have called my own

And to the liquid universe deliver;

            Loosening my spirit’s zone,

Wrap round me as thy limbs the wind, the light, the river.

"Night” is characterized in relation to “Death” as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

A maternal, matriarchal figure with a stifling amount of control over Death’s actions

A maternal, matriarchal figure with a close, reassuring relationship to Death

An innocent maiden who helps Death, unaware of Death’s actions against mortal beings

A marginalized, obsolete being

A paternal, patriarchal figure with a close, reassuring relationship to Death

Correct answer:

A maternal, matriarchal figure with a close, reassuring relationship to Death

Explanation:

“Night” is personified and explicitly figured as Death’s “mother.” She is figured as having given birth to death “unfathered,” and as maintaining a close, supportive maternal relationship with Death (“she oft, to still thee from men’s sobs and curses . . . pours her cool charms”).

Her relationship to Death is presented as helpful as opposed to stifling or controlling. She is spoken of as protective and relevant to Death, not obsolete. And while she is referred to as a “maiden” Night is also specifically figured as aware of the consequences of Death’s actions (“men’s sobs and curses”).

Example Question #7 : Characterization And Motivation: Poetry

Adapted from "Old Man Traveling" by William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798 ed.)

          The little hedge-row birds,
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought—He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
"Sir! I am going many miles to take
"A last leave of my son, a mariner,
"Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth,
And there is dying in an hospital."

We could describe the man's response to the speaker as __________.

Possible Answers:

suspicious

frank

indefatigable

derisive

unhinged

Correct answer:

frank

Explanation:

The old man's response to the speaker is calm and straightforward in that it does not deviate from what seems to be the truth; it is also delivered without a great deal of emotion. Therefore, we cannot call his response "unhinged," which suggests a great deal of emotion. There is nothing "suspicious" about the man's response, nor is there any derision in the man's tone. We could perhaps say he is “indefatigable,” but he does not seem to be tireless or energetic in his answer, so “frank” is the best possible answer in this case.

Example Question #417 : Ap English Literature And Composition

Adapted from Life and Remains of John Clare "The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet" by John Clare (1872, ed. J. L. Cherry)

I am! Yet what I am who cares, or knows?
My friends forsake me, like a memory lost.
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost.
And yet I am—I live—though I am toss'd

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise.
Into the living sea of waking dream,
Where there is neither sense of life, nor joys,
But the huge shipwreck of my own esteem
And all that's dear. Even those I loved the best
Are strange—nay, they are stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod—
For scenes where woman never smiled or wept—
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Full of high thoughts, unborn. So let me lie,
The grass below; above, the vaulted sky.

How does the narrator feel about his or her closest friends?

Possible Answers:

The narrator feels belittled by them

The narrator feels unrestrained by them

The narrator feels diffident towards them

The narrator feels estranged from them

The narrator feels supported by them

Correct answer:

The narrator feels estranged from them

Explanation:

The narrator says of his or her closest friends, "My friends forsake me, like a memory lost." and “Even those I loved the best / Are strange—nay, they are stranger than the rest.” Based on this evidence, we can say that the narrator feels estranged from his or her friends; in the second quotation, "strange" and "stranger" are suggesting something that is distanced and unknown rather than something that is weird. We can easily ignore “supported by,” “belittled by,” and “unrestrained by them.” “Diffident” means reserved or shy, and nothing in the poem suggests that the narrator is shy around his or her friends. "Estranged" is the best answer here.

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