SAT II Literature : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, and Describing Poetry

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing

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.

Where does the speaker see his loved one? 

Possible Answers:

Swimming in the ocean 

Working her way through a complex maze 

Collecting souvenirs at the seaside 

Dancing in a meadow of flowers 

Paddling in the mountain stream

Correct answer:

Collecting souvenirs at the seaside 

Explanation:

The only specific mention of the speaker seeing his loved one is in stanza 4, line 15, where he talks about seeing her collecting keep sakes (presumably sea shells) by the ocean. 

Example Question #1 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing 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.

The first two stanzas suggest which of the following?

Possible Answers:

The speaker is an experienced outdoorsman who is taking in his surroundings 

The speaker is generally absent-minded

The speaker is a young man who is undertaking his first adventure in the wilderness 

The speaker is preferential to rivers over bodies of salt water 

The speaker is trying to concentrate on his surroundings, but is distracted by thoughts of his love

Correct answer:

The speaker is trying to concentrate on his surroundings, but is distracted by thoughts of his love

Explanation:

The first two stanzas mention the author's appreciation for nature, but that his mind is on another person ("With you, kindest friends, in idea I rove," line 6). None of the other answers have support in the passage. 

Example Question #2 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Poetry

… Come, my friends,

’T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths     (5)   

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

(1842)

Based on context, what does it mean to “smite / The sounding furrows” (lines 3-4)?

Possible Answers:

Raise a cry to recruit others for the speaker’s journey

Put one’s affairs in order before a long voyage

Strike those opposed to the speaker’s plan

Row vigorously

Raise a cry to inform others of the speaker’s departure

Correct answer:

Row vigorously

Explanation:

The speaker has just commanded his audience to “push off”: in other words, to embark upon a nautical voyage. Furrows are grooves and usually appear in soil, but, taken in the maritime context of the poem, they could mean furrows in the water, i.e. waves. To “smite” or strike the waves, therefore, is to row energetically.

Passage adapted from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” (1842)

Example Question #43 : Extrapolating From The Passage

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.

The transition between the first two stanzas and the final stanza can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

hope to despair

confinement to longing

depression to joy

captivity to freedom

depravity to solace

Correct answer:

confinement to longing

Explanation:

We cannot say that the narrator goes from depression to joy, as the first two stanzas talk of his or her woe and the final stanza only talks of his wishes of a place where he or she could be free from his or her woe. We can say the first two stanzas are "confinement" or "captivity" in that the narrator is captive with the torment of solitude and woes. The final stanza is then a longing or wishing for something beyond the confinement the narrator is facing. “Hope to despair” is incorrect as it is in the wrong order, and “captivity to freedom” is incorrect as the freedom is never actually reached, just desired.

Example Question #2 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Poetry

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.

Which of the following best describes the second stanza?

Possible Answers:

Diving into the depths of a lake and coming out rejuvenated

Sailing across the wastes of friendship

Meeting those on a crossroads and not recognizing them

A stormy ocean of emotions

A voyage of self discovery

Correct answer:

A stormy ocean of emotions

Explanation:

The speaker is obviously in some emotional distress throughout the second stanza and the author links this to an extended metaphor of a violent sea and the “shipwreck” of “self-esteem.” We can therefore say the second stanza is “a stormy sea of emotions,” as the other answers are insufficient in capturing the “emotion” and violence of the sea in the metaphor.

Example Question #51 : Summarizing Or Describing The Passage

1 Yes, long as children feel affright
2 In darkness, men shall fear a God;
3 And long as daisies yield delight
4 Shall see His footprints in the sod.
5 Is't ignorance? This ignorant state
6 Science doth but elucidate --
7 Deepen, enlarge. But though 'twere made
8 Demonstrable that God is not --
9 What then? It would not change this lot:
10 The ghost would haunt, nor could be laid.

11 Yea, ape and angel, strife and old debate --
12 The harps of heaven and the dreary gongs of hell;
13 Science the feud can only aggravate --
14 No umpire she betwixt the chimes and knell:
15 The running battle of the star and clod
16 Shall run for ever -- if there be no God.

(1876)

The central point this passage makes is that _________________.

Possible Answers:

God exists

there is something about life that doesn't make sense without God

science is not valuable

God may or may not exist

the existence of God is something that cannot be questioned by human intellect

Correct answer:

there is something about life that doesn't make sense without God

Explanation:

In the first stanza, the "ignorance" (line 5), the "lot" (line 9), and the "ghost" (line 10) all refer to something the poet claims does not make sense, that only makes sense, that would remain a riddle, without "God" as its explanation. The last two lines from this passage make this even more clear: "The running battle of the star and clod / Shall run for ever -- if there be no God" (lines 15-16). The "battle" is this question, this riddle, that the poet is describing--the sense that God explains or satisfies some mystery of life that nothing else could explain or satisfy.

The poet does not claim that science is worthless, but that science, which answers so many other questions, cannot explain the mystery he is talking about. The central argument of the passage also does not directly comment on whether God does exist or not, or on whether human intellect is sufficient to apprehend the existence of a deity.

Passage excerpted from the epic poem Clarel by Herman Melville (1876).

Example Question #3 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Poetry

1 Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
2 Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
3 From hence your memory death cannot take,
4 Although in me each part will be forgotten.
5 Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
6 Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
7 The earth can yield me but a common grave,
8 When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
9 Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
10 Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
11 And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
12 When all the breathers of this world are dead;
13    You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen) 
14    Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men. 

 

(1609)

The speaker claims that his beloved will live on in _________________.

Possible Answers:

the speaker's poetry

the speaker's memory

in everyone who has seen the beloved's beauty

the beauty of the world

the beloved's epitaph

Correct answer:

the speaker's poetry

Explanation:

The entire poem makes this argument, but it is especially clear in line 9: "Your monument shall be my gentle verse..." By "monument," the speaker means something that perpetuates the memory of a person after they are dead. This monument, then, is the means by which the beloved will live on after death. The speaker states, then, that this monument will be his own "gentle verse." "Verse" is a word for poetry, and so this must refer to the poet's own writing.

Passage adapted from William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 80" (1609)

Example Question #4 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing Poetry

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I 

Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then? 
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly? 
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den? 
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be. 
If ever any beauty I did see, 
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.  

And now good-morrow to our waking souls, 
Which watch not one another out of fear; 
For love, all love of other sights controls, 
And makes one little room an everywhere. 
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown, 
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one. 

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, 
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest; 
Where can we find two better hemispheres, 
Without sharp north, without declining west? 
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally; 
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I 
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

(1633)

Based on the context, what does “For love, all love of other sights controls, / And makes one little room an everywhere” mean? 

Possible Answers:

When you’re in love, the whole world can be contained in a single room

When you’re in love, you see only the best in your partner

When you’re in love, it doesn’t matter how close your living quarters are

When you’re in love, your partner controls how you see the world

 All of these

Correct answer:

When you’re in love, the whole world can be contained in a single room

Explanation:

While it might be true that the speaker doesn't mind being in close quarters with his lover, that's a byproduct of what Donne is saying here: that love makes a single room feel like it contains the whole world. In the first half of the sentence, it's not the beloved that controls one's sight, but "love" itself. 

Passage adapted from John Donne's "The Good Morrow" (1633).

Example Question #9 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing

1 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: 
5 What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape 
       Of deities or mortals, or of both, 
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? 
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? 
9 What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? 
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? 
 
11 Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, 
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: 
15 Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
18 Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve; 
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! 
 
21 Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; 
And, happy melodist, unwearied, 
         For ever piping songs for ever new; 
25 More happy love! more happy, happy love! 
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd, 
                For ever panting, and for ever young; 
28 All breathing human passion far above, 
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, 
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. 
 
31 Who are these coming to the sacrifice? 
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest, 
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, 
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest? 
35 What little town by river or sea shore, 
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, 
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? 
38 And, little town, thy streets for evermore 
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell 
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return. 
 
41 O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede 
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought, 
With forest branches and the trodden weed; 
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought 
45 As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! 
         When old age shall this generation waste, 
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
48 Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all 
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
 
(1819)

Which of the following does the poem NOT describe?

Possible Answers:

A lover trying to kiss a woman

Trees

A pagan sacrifice

An empty town

Death and suffering

Correct answer:

Death and suffering

Explanation:

The poet is, specifically, describing and reacting to a Greek urn. Among the scenes on the urn which are described are: trees (line 21), the lover (line 17), an empty town (line 38), and a pagan sacrifice (line 31). Nowhere is there a description of death or suffering.

Passage adapted from John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (1819)

Example Question #10 : Summarizing, Paraphrasing, And Describing

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent 
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went! 
And more must, in yet longer light's delay. 
With witness I speak this. But where I say 
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament 
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent 
To dearest him that lives alas! away. 

I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree 
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me; 
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse. 
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see 
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be 
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

(1918) 

In the context, what does “Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours” mean?

Possible Answers:

Self-reflection can elevate the spirit from the dull yeast bread consumed by commoners to the higher-end sourdough enjoyed by gentry and nobility. 

The conversion from yeast bread to sourdough is like the conversion from Paganism to Christianity.  

Self-reflection can, like late-19th century fermentation techniques, preserve the spirit. 

None of these.

Without God, the spirit is like a dough that will not rise. 

Correct answer:

None of these.

Explanation:

When Hopkins says "sour," he's not talking about delicious sourdough bread: he really means really means something that's been spoiled. All of the options here are either inapplicable, or transform Hopkins meaning to something positive. The overall context of the poem should tell you that Hopkins is more one to lament than celebrate the effects of the "selfyeast." 

Passage adapted from "[I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day]" (1918) by Gerald Manley Hopkins. 

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