SAT II Literature : Grammar and Syntax: Poetry

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Grammar And Syntax: Poetry

1          Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
2          Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
3          Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
4          And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
5          Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
6          And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
7          And every fair from fair sometime declines,
8          By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
9          But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
10        Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
11        Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
12        When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
13        So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
14        So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

To what does "this" (line 14) refer?

Possible Answers:

The speaker's love for his or her beloved

The sun

The speaker's heart

The poem

The speaker's beloved

Correct answer:

The poem

Explanation:

"this" in line 14 refers to the poem: the "eternal lines," mentioned earlier in line 12.

Example Question #2 : Grammar And Syntax: Poetry

1   If but some vengeful god would call to me

  From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing,

3    Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,

4    That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!"

 

5    Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,

6    Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;

7    Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I

8    Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

 

9    But not so.   How arrives it joy lies slain,

10  And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?

11  —Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,

12  And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . . .

13  These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown

14  Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

 

(1898)

In line 7, the speaker mentions "a Powerfuler than I" (line 7). To whom is this referring?

Possible Answers:

"Doomsters" (line 13) 

the speaker's "love" (line 4) 

"Casualty" (line 11) 

"Time" (line 12) 

"some . . . god" (line 1) 

Correct answer:

"some . . . god" (line 1) 

Explanation:

In line 7, the speaker is referring to a god when he mentions "a Powerfuler than I." The first two stanzas emphasize that the speaker would "bear it" (line 5) to know if "some vengeful god" (line 1) "had willed and meted me the tears I shed" (line 8). If a god has "willed and meted" the speaker's tears, then that god is "Powerfuller" (line 7).

 

(Passage adapted from "Hap" by Thomas Hardy)

Example Question #3 : Grammar And Syntax: Poetry

1 They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

2 Love and desire and hate:

3 I think they have no portion in us after

4 We pass the gate. 

 

5 They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

6 Out of a misty dream

7 Our path emerges for a while, then closes

8 Within a dream. 

(1896)

What is the subject of the verb "closes" (line 7)?  

Possible Answers:

"dream" (line 8)

"Our" (line 7)

"path" (line 7)

"roses" (line 5)

"dream" (line 6)

Correct answer:

"path" (line 7)

Explanation:

The subject of a verb is the thing that performs the action of the verb. For example: In the sentence, "The dog barks," "dog" is the subject of the verb "barks."  

In line 7, "path" is the thing that performs the action of the verb "closes," so it is the subject of that verb.  In the same line, "path" is also the subject of the verb "emerges."

Passage adapted from "They are not long" by Ernest Dowson (1896)

Example Question #4 : Grammar And Syntax: Poetry

In the desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,

Who, squatting upon the ground,

Held his heart in his hands,

And ate of it.      (5)

I said, “Is it good, friend?”

“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

 

“But I like it

“Because it is bitter,

“And because it is my heart.”    (10)

(1895)

What type of sentence is the first sentence in this passage (lines 1-5)?

Possible Answers:

Paratactic

Telegraphic

Interrogatory

Periodic

None of these

Correct answer:

Periodic

Explanation:

A periodic sentence is one in which the main clause and important idea comes at the end, which is the case here. Telegraphic sentence refers to any concise sentence (usually five or fewer words in length) that omits unnecessary words and parts of speech. Parataxis or paratactic sentences are ones in which short, simple clauses are placed beside each other without subordination (e.g. “I am late; I overslept”). Interrogatory sentences are simply questions.

Passage adapted from Stephen Crane’s “In the Desert” (1895)

Example Question #5 : Grammar And Syntax: Poetry

In the desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,

Who, squatting upon the ground,

Held his heart in his hands,

And ate of it.      (5)

I said, “Is it good, friend?”

“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

 

“But I like it

“Because it is bitter,

“And because it is my heart.”    (10)

(1895)

What is this passage’s meter?

Possible Answers:

Sprung rhythm

Bathetic verse

Blank verse

Pathetic verse

Free verse

Correct answer:

Free verse

Explanation:

The lines do not have a set number of syllables nor any pattern of stressed and unstressed beats, so we can deduce that this is free verse. Blank verse is lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter, and sprung rhythm is a pattern designed to mimic the cadences of natural spoken speech. Pathos and bathos are both rhetorical strategies, not types of poetic meter.

Passage adapted from Stephen Crane’s “In the Desert” (1895)

Example Question #6 : Grammar And Syntax: Poetry

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;    (5)

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;   (10)

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

(1886)

In the majority of this passage’s lines, what is the poetic meter?

Possible Answers:

Spondaic tetrameter

Iambic tetrameter

Iambic trimeter

Spondaic trimeter

Spondaic blank verse

Correct answer:

Iambic trimeter

Explanation:

A few of these lines are indeed written in iambic tetrameter. However, most are in iambic trimeter – a pattern of three pairs of syllables. These syllables alternate in an unstressed-stressed rhythm, as with all iambs.

Passage adapted from Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers” (1886)

Example Question #7 : Grammar And Syntax: Poetry

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.

In context, the use of the bolded and underlined word "trembled" serves what purpose?

Possible Answers:

To illustrate the moral and religious confusion the speaker feels in a changing and dangerous world with a physical manifestation of that mental state

To illustrate the speaker's fear of his captor's wrath

To illustrate the physically uncomfortable circumstances of the speaker's captivity

To illustrate the excitement the speaker feels at being released from his captivity with a physical manifestation of that mental state

To illustrate the unease and sadness the speaker feels in captivity with a physical manifestation of that mental state

Correct answer:

To illustrate the unease and sadness the speaker feels in captivity with a physical manifestation of that mental state

Explanation:

In this context, the word "trembled" was chosen to illustrate the unease and sadness that captivity has engendered in the speaker with a physical manifestation of that mental state. The earlier reference to the speaker's sitting "forlorn and sad" in captivity ties directly with the statement that he "tremble[s] at th' approaching morn."

There is no indication given that the speaker is physically afraid of his captor (indeed, his petition is quite candid to this captor). The poem consists of the speaker petitioning for his release, so it stands to reason that this release has not yet been agreed to. The speaker does not seem morally or theologically confused, but is rather presenting a fairly cohesive moral viewpoint. While the speaker's physical circumstances in captivity are said to be uncomfortable, in this case the "trembl[ing] is attributed to mental states, rather than physical coldness or discomfort.

Example Question #5 : Syntax And Structure Of Excerpts

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.

The underlined excerpt is framed as a conditional for what rhetorical purpose?

Possible Answers:

The conditional is used to suggest that the speaker has never valued freedom and has always behaved in an oppressive and tyrannical manner.

The conditional is used to contrast the addressee's physical comfort and security with the physical conditions of the speaker.

The conditional is used to relate the addressee's personal sense of freedom and justice to the conditions he is imposing on the speaker.

The conditional is used to frame the excerpt as an ultimatum: if the speaker wishes to remain free, he must free the speaker.

The conditional is used to relate the addressee's personal sense of freedom and justice to the condition of human prisoners.

Correct answer:

The conditional is used to relate the addressee's personal sense of freedom and justice to the conditions he is imposing on the speaker.

Explanation:

The highlighted excerpt is framed as a conditional (accomplished through the use of "if" at the beginning of the stanza) in order to relate the addressee's personal sense of freedom ("thy breast with freedom glowed") and justice ("spurn'd a tyrant's chain") to the conditions he is imposing ("thy strong oppressive force") on the speaker by "detain[ing]" him.

The excerpt is concerned with the speaker's sense of justice, not his physical circumstances. The use of "if" actually hints that the addressee has, in fact, felt the glow of freedom in his breast and has "spurn'd a tyrant's chain." If the addressee had never been concerned with these issues, the entreaty would bear no rhetorical weight. Human prisoners are not mentioned. Throughout the poem, the speaker is "petitioning" for justice and ethical consideration, not imposing ultimatums on his addressee.

Example Question #8 : Grammar And Syntax: 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 context, the use of the underlined and bolded phrase “have called” in the last stanza serves which of the following purposes?

Possible Answers:

The use of “have called” in reference to “this life” suggests that the speaker is, in fact, dead, and that the poem is addressed from beyond the grave.

The use of “have called” in reference to “this life” reveals that the speaker is actually speaking on behalf of Death, not to it. This revelation functions as the climax of the poem.

The use of “have called” suggests that the speaker has been deceptive in the past, and alerts the reader, for the first time, that the speaker may be unreliable in his or her statements.

In reference to “this life,” the “have called my own” construction suggests that the speaker is not ready to die, and actively resents death’s power to override his or her will.

In reference to “this life,” the “have called my own” construction suggests that the speaker’s sense of a rigid, personally defined self is illusory in the face a fluid and “liquid universe.”

Correct answer:

In reference to “this life,” the “have called my own” construction suggests that the speaker’s sense of a rigid, personally defined self is illusory in the face a fluid and “liquid universe.”

Explanation:

The key word in this construction is “called”, by saying that he or she has merely “called” his or her life his or her own the speaker is suggesting that this is not, in fact, the case. This rigidly defined sense of self is overridden by the poem's focus on the abstract aspects of death, and the “liquid universe.”

The use of “called” calls into question only the speaker’s accuracy in having “called this life [his or her] own”, not his or her reliability as a speaker in the poem overall; it does not suggest that he or she is already dead, nor does it call into question Death’s power to end his or her life. 

Example Question #63 : Interpreting Words And Excerpts

Passage adapted from Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Spring" (1921).

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness 

Of leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.  5

The sun is hot on my neck as I observe

The spikes of the crocus.

The smell of the earth is good.

It is apparent that there is no death.

But what does that signify?  10

Not only under the ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.  15

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 

April

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

The word "You" in line 3 refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

a person named April

beauty

the impersonal you

death

the month of April

Correct answer:

the month of April

Explanation:

The "you" in line 3 refers to the month of April. The first line of the poem establishes April as the "you" that will be spoken to throughout the poem. The key clue for this question is the direct reference to "April" in line 1.

One can infer that the April that is being addressed is the month of April and not a person because of the title of the poem, "Spring," and the description of April returning each year.

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