SAT II Literature : Context-Based Meaning of a Word: Poetry

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

Passage adapted from "To Some Ladies" (1817) by John Keats

What though while the wonders of nature exploring,
  I cannot your light, mazy footsteps attend;
Nor listen to accents, that almost adoring,
  Bless Cynthia's face, the enthusiast's friend:

(5) Yet over the steep, whence the mountain stream rushes,
  With you, kindest friends, in idea I rove;
Mark the clear tumbling crystal, its passionate gushes,
  Its spray that the wild flower kindly bedews.

Why linger you so, the wild labyrinth strolling?
 (10) Why breathless, unable your bliss to declare?
Ah! you list to the nightingale's tender condoling,
  Responsive to sylphs, in the moon beamy air.

'Tis morn, and the flowers with dew are yet drooping,
  I see you are treading the verge of the sea:
(15) And now! ah, I see it—you just now are stooping
  To pick up the keep-sake intended for me.

If a cherub, on pinions of silver descending,
  Had brought me a gem from the fret-work of heaven;
And smiles, with his star-cheering voice sweetly blending,
  (20) The blessings of Tighe had melodiously given;

It had not created a warmer emotion
  Than the present, fair nymphs, I was blest with from you,
Than the shell, from the bright golden sands of the ocean
  Which the emerald waves at your feet gladly threw.

(25) For, indeed, 'tis a sweet and peculiar pleasure,
  (And blissful is he who such happiness finds,)
To possess but a span of the hour of leisure,
  In elegant, pure, and aerial minds.

Based on context, what is the "crystal" referred to in line 7? 

Possible Answers:

A mine of sparkling stones 

A collection of gem stones 

A bubbling fountain 

A still pond 

A body of rushing water 

Correct answer:

A body of rushing water 

Explanation:

If the second stanza is read in its entirety, it is clear that the speaker is referring to a mountain stream. Based on the other context clues (ex. "passionate gushes") it appears the water is moving quickly. 

Example Question #2 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

Passage adapted from "To Some Ladies" (1817) by John Keats

What though while the wonders of nature exploring,
  I cannot your light, mazy footsteps attend;
Nor listen to accents, that almost adoring,
  Bless Cynthia's face, the enthusiast's friend:

(5) Yet over the steep, whence the mountain stream rushes,
  With you, kindest friends, in idea I rove;
Mark the clear tumbling crystal, its passionate gushes,
  Its spray that the wild flower kindly bedews.

Why linger you so, the wild labyrinth strolling?
 (10) Why breathless, unable your bliss to declare?
Ah! you list to the nightingale's tender condoling,
  Responsive to sylphs, in the moon beamy air.

'Tis morn, and the flowers with dew are yet drooping,
  I see you are treading the verge of the sea:
(15) And now! ah, I see it—you just now are stooping
  To pick up the keep-sake intended for me.

If a cherub, on pinions of silver descending,
  Had brought me a gem from the fret-work of heaven;
And smiles, with his star-cheering voice sweetly blending,
  (20) The blessings of Tighe had melodiously given;

It had not created a warmer emotion
  Than the present, fair nymphs, I was blest with from you,
Than the shell, from the bright golden sands of the ocean
  Which the emerald waves at your feet gladly threw.

(25) For, indeed, 'tis a sweet and peculiar pleasure,
  (And blissful is he who such happiness finds,)
To possess but a span of the hour of leisure,
  In elegant, pure, and aerial minds.

In context, "warmer" (line 21) relates most nearly to: 

Possible Answers:

Affectionate fondness

Uncomfortable stuffiness

Blistering heat

Cozy security

Tempered kindness

Correct answer:

Affectionate fondness

Explanation:

The author is describing how much he appreciates the gift of the seashell. The warmth he feels therefore relates most nearly to a feeling of fondness or adoration (more acute than mere kindness.)

Example Question #3 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree

    Toward heaven still,

    And there's a barrel that I didn't fill

    Beside it, and there may be two or three

    Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.

    But I am done with apple-picking now.

    Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

    The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

Based on context, what does the narrator mean by “some bough”?

Possible Answers:

A barrel

Someone else’s orchard

A neighbor’s windowsill

The ground beneath the apple tree

A branch

Correct answer:

A branch

Explanation:

The apples in the poem remain “upon” this bough, so we can eliminate the words that don’t fit with this preposition (barrel and someone’s else’s orchard). We can also eliminate the neighbor’s windowsill, since there are no indications in the poem that the narrator even has a neighbor. The best choice here is branch.

Passage adapted from Robert Frost’s “After Apple-Picking.” North of Boston. (1915)

Example Question #4 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

What dire offence from amorous causes springs,

What mighty contests rise from trivial things,

I sing — This verse to Caryl, Muse! is due:

This, even Belinda may vouchsafe to view:

Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,

If She inspire, and He approve my lays.

 

… Sol thro’ white curtains shot a tim’rous ray,        

And oped those eyes that must eclipse the day.       

Now lapdogs give themselves the rousing shake,      

And sleepless lovers just at twelve awake:   

Thrice rung the bell, the slipper knock’d the ground,

And the press’d watch return’d a silver sound.        

Belinda still her downy pillow prest,

Her guardian Sylph prolong’d the balmy rest.

Based on the context of the passage, what is “Sol”?

Possible Answers:

A gentleman

The sun

A lover

A pet lapdog

An assailant

Correct answer:

The sun

Explanation:

We know that “Sol” shoots rays through a curtain and opens eyes, so it stands to reason that the word means sun. (You could also note the common root word in “Sol” and “solar.”) While the other choices may wait outside windows and appear elsewhere in the poem, they certainly don’t shoot rays through curtains.

Passage adapted from The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope (1712)

Example Question #5 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

1 Those lines that I before have writ do lie,

  Even those that said I could not love you dearer;

  Yet then my judgment knew no reason why

  My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.

5 But reckoning Time, whose million'd accidents 

  Creep in 'twixt vows and change decrees of kings, 

  Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp'st intents, 

  Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;

9 Alas, why, fearing of Time's tyranny, 

  Might I not then say 'Now I love you best,' 

  When I was certain o'er incertainty, 

  Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?

13 Love is a babe; then might I not say so,

   To give full growth to that which still doth grow? 

(1609)

In the context of this poem, the word "million'd" (line 5) means ___________________.

Possible Answers:

many

one million

lengthy

milled 

accidental

Correct answer:

many

Explanation:

The word "million'd" (line 5) is an adjective describing "accidents" (line 5). It implies that the quantity of these "accidents" brought about through Time (line 5) is a very large number. The point is not to say that there are precisely one million accidents, but rather that there are simply a lot of them. Therefore, "many" is the best approximation of the meaning of this word.

Passage adapted from Shakespeare's "Sonnet 115" (1609)

Example Question #6 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

In pious times, e’r Priest-craft did begin,

Before Polygamy was made a Sin;

When Man on many multipli’d his kind,

E’r one to one was cursedly confin’d,

When Nature prompted and no Law deni’d   (5)      

Promiscuous Use of Concubine and Bride;

Then Israel’s Monarch, after Heavens own heart,

His vigorous warmth did, variously, impart

To Wives and Slaves: And, wide as his Command,

Scatter’d his Maker’s Image through the Land.    (10)

(1681)

Based on context, what is likely meant by “Priest-craft” (line 1)?

Possible Answers:

Witchcraft

Christianity

Prophecy

Religious oligarchy

Paganism

Correct answer:

Christianity

Explanation:

By saying that the events of the poem take place before “Priest-craft,” the author means to say that the events take place before religion began to prohibit polygamy. Specifically, he’s referring to Christianity, the opposite of paganism. Witchcraft, religious oligarchy, and prophecy are not supported by the context of the passage at all.

Passage adapted from “Absalom and Achitophel,” by John Dryden (1681)

Example Question #7 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

'Hard by yon Wood, now frowning as in Scorn, 

'Mutt'ring his wayward Fancies he wou'd rove, 

'Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn, 

'Or craz'd with Care, or cross'd in hopeless Love. 

    'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd Hill,   (5)

'Along the Heath, and near his fav'rite Tree; 

'Another came; nor yet beside the Rill, 

'Nor up the Lawn, nor at the Wood was he. 

    'The next with Dirges due in sad Array 

'Slow thro' the Church-way Path we saw him born.  (10)

'Approach and read (for thou canst read) the Lay, 

'Grav'd on the Stone beneath yon aged Thorn.

(1751)

Based on context, what is the best definition for “rill” (line 7)?

Possible Answers:

Season

Stream

Creature

Point

Lad

Correct answer:

Stream

Explanation:

Note the use of “Hill,” “Heath, “Tree,” “Lawn,” and “Wood” in similar contexts in the surrounding lines. Based on this repetition, we can surmise that a “rill” is a feature of a natural landscape and a place where the narrator might look for the poem’s missing character. The only choice that fits this context is “stream,” and a rill is indeed a small creek or brook.

Excerpt adapted from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. (1751)

Example Question #8 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

'Hard by yon Wood, now frowning as in Scorn, 

'Mutt'ring his wayward Fancies he wou'd rove, 

'Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn, 

'Or craz'd with Care, or cross'd in hopeless Love. 

    'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd Hill,   (5)

'Along the Heath, and near his fav'rite Tree; 

'Another came; nor yet beside the Rill, 

'Nor up the Lawn, nor at the Wood was he. 

    'The next with Dirges due in sad Array 

'Slow thro' the Church-way Path we saw him born.  (10)

'Approach and read (for thou canst read) the Lay, 

'Grav'd on the Stone beneath yon aged Thorn. 

(1751)

Based on context, what is another word for “Lay” (line 11)?

Possible Answers:

Bed

Landscape

Epitaph

Decree

Marriage

Correct answer:

Epitaph

Explanation:

We know that the Lay is something engraved on a stone in a churchyard (graveyard), so it stands to reason that that stone is a gravestone. It further stands to reason that the engraving is an epitaph, or commemorative phrase. Decree (edict), landscape, marriage, and bed all lack textual support in this passage.

Excerpt adapted from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. (1751)

Example Question #9 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

On either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the wold and meet the sky;

And thro' the field the road runs by

To many-tower'd Camelot;       (5)

And up and down the people go,

Gazing where the lilies blow

Round an island there below,

The island of Shalott.

(1833)

In line 3, what does “wold” likely mean?

Possible Answers:

Women 

None of these

Meadows

World

Roadways

Correct answer:

Meadows

Explanation:

Whatever “wold” is, we know from the previous line that barley and rye – agricultural crops – cover it. This narrows down the options to “meadows,” since none of the other choices make sense in context. And in fact, the definition of “wold” is a moor, field, or other open wild place.

Passage adapted from “The Lady of Shalott,” Poems by Alfred Tennyson (1833).

Example Question #10 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Poetry

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express

A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:

What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape    (5)

Of deities or mortals, or of both,

In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?

What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?

What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?    (10)

Based on context, what are “timbrels” (line 10)?

Possible Answers:

Weapons

Religious rites

Thieves

Musical instruments

Beverages

Correct answer:

Musical instruments

Explanation:

We have few context clues for this word, but we do know that it is paired with “pipes” and that it appears in a scene on a Grecian urn. If we interpret “pipes” to mean antique woodwind instruments, it stands to reason that a timbrel is also a musical instrument. And indeed, timbrels are an early form of tambourine.

Passage adapted from John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn" (1820)

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