SAT II Literature : Tone, Style, and Mood: Twentieth-Century Poetry

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

A Late Walk

1          When I go up through the mowing field,
2          The headless aftermath,
3          Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
4          Half closes the garden path.

5          And when I come to the garden ground,
6          The whir of sober birds
7          Up from the tangle of withered weeds
8          Is sadder than any words

9          A tree beside the wall stands bare,
10        But a leaf that lingered brown,
11        Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
12        Comes softly rattling down.

13        I end not far from my going forth
14        By picking the faded blue
15        Of the last remaining aster flower
16        To carry again to you.

The tone of the poem can best be described as                      .

Possible Answers:

cavalier

lighthearted

irreverant

optimistic

nostalgic

Correct answer:

nostalgic

Explanation:

The elegiac style of the poem, as it is literally about the passing of a growing season and the coming of winter, depicts nostalgia.

Example Question #2 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

… It is morning. I stand by the mirror 

And tie my tie once more. 

While waves far off in a pale rose twilight  

Crash on a white sand shore. 

I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:(5) 

How small and white my face!— 

The green earth tilts through a sphere of air 

And bathes in a flame of space.  

There are houses hanging above the stars 

And stars hung under a sea...     (10)

And a sun far off in a shell of silence 

Dapples my walls for me....

(1919)

How could the tone of this passage best be described?

Possible Answers:

Sardonic

Sycophantic

Jaded

Reverent

Sycophantic

Correct answer:

Reverent

Explanation:

The passage shows a quiet, solemn respect for the narrator’s surroundings and lends itself to a reverent tone. The passage is neither jaded (cynical) nor sardonic (sarcastic). It is also not sycophantic (obsequious, flattering) or allusive (referential).

Passage adapted from Conrad Aiken’s “Morning Song From ‘Senlin.’” Modern American Poetry, ed.Louis Untermeyer. (1919)

Example Question #3 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

1 Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting Heaven

2 That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,

3 And thereupon imagination and heart were driven

4 So wild that every casual thought of that and this

5 Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season

6 With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;

7 And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,

8 Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,

9 Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,

10 Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent

11 Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken

12 By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

(1916)

The speaker's tone could be described as one of ______________________.

Possible Answers:

awe and fear

admiration and joy

disgust and amazement

bitterness and cowardice

penitence and regret

Correct answer:

awe and fear

Explanation:

Awe and fear are two adequate descriptors for this poem's tone. Awe is a state of amazement or wonder at something beautiful, vast, or in some way beyond one's own comprehension. Towards the end of the poem, especially when the speaker is wondering if the afterlife will be as harsh and cold as the sky looks, the poem also takes on a definitive tone of fear.

There is little in the poem that creates a tone of disgust, joy, bitterness and cowardice, or regret.

Passage adapted from William Butler Yeats' "The Cold Heaven" (1916)

Example Question #4 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

Passage adapted from "Piano" by D.H. Lawrence (1918)

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

 

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

 

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Which word best describes the overall tone of this poem?

Possible Answers:

Betrayal

Disillusionment

Nostalgia

Melancholy

Correct answer:

Nostalgia

Explanation:

While several of these words describe feelings the speaker experiences throughout the poem, "Nostalgia" is the poem's most persistent mood. The speaker's feeling of sadness and grief for loss of the past is rooted in memories of his mother playing the piano, of which he is reminded when he hears the woman singing in the first line. Without reminiscing on the past, the speaker would feel no "melancholy," "disillusionment," or "betrayal," for its passing.

Example Question #5 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

To the Dead in the Grave-Yard Under My Window
by Adelaide Crapsey (1878 - 1915)

  1. How can you lie so still? All day I watch
  2. And never a blade of all the green sod moves
  3. To show where restlessly you toss and turn,
  4. And fling a desperate arm or draw up knees
  5. Stiffened and aching from their long disuse;
  6. I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth
  7. To take its freedom of the midnight hour.
  8. Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones?
  9. The very worms must scorn you where you lie,
  10. A pallid mouldering acquiescent folk,
  11. Meek habitants of unresented graves.
  12. Why are you there in your straight row on row
  13. Where I must ever see you from my bed
  14. That in your mere dumb presence iterate
  15. The text so weary in my ears: “Lie still
  16. And rest; be patient and lie still and rest.”
  17. I’ll not be patient! I will not lie still!

The speaker’s tone can best be characterized as:

I   exasperated
II  scornful
III tractable

Possible Answers:

I, II, and III

II and III
 only

I only

I and II

III only

Correct answer:

I and II

Explanation:

The speaker's tone is both exasperated ("How can you lie so still?) and scornful ("Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones? /The very worms must scorn you where you lie...") Her tone is not at all "tractable" (compliant, easily controlled).

Even if you do not know the meaning of "tractable", you can still discover the correct response through the process of elimination. If you see that the speaker's tone is both exasperated and scornful, you can eliminate "I only" (which says "only exasperated is correct") "III only" (which says "neither exasperated nor scornful is correct"), and "II and III
 only" (which says that exasperated is not correct.)

Example Question #6 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness

Of little leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.

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?

Not only under the ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots,

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,

April

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

(1921)

Which of the following best describes the poem's tone?

Possible Answers:

Despondent and passive 

Petulant and accepting

Optimistic and theological 

Existential and resentful

Loving but frustrated 

Correct answer:

Existential and resentful

Explanation:

The poem's tone can best be described as being "existential and resentful," because "Life in itself is nothing" illustrates the speaker's philosophical and pessimistic views on life, and her resentment towards April is illustrated by "You can no longer quiet me..." and calling April "an idiot."

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

Example Question #7 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

 The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   
And the highwayman came riding— 
         Riding—riding— 
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door. 
 
He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,   
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin. 
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.   
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, 
         His pistol butts a-twinkle, 
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky. 
 
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard. 
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.   
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there   
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair. 
 
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked 
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.   
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,   
But he loved the landlord’s daughter, 
         The landlord’s red-lipped daughter. 
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say— 
 
“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night, 
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light; 
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,   
Then look for me by moonlight, 
         Watch for me by moonlight, 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”
 
(1906) 

The first two lines of this poem function primarily to establish ___________________.

Possible Answers:

Character

Plot

Rhyme scheme    

Mood

Setting 

Correct answer:

Mood

Explanation:

The primary function of the first two lines of this poem is to establish mood. The word choice and imagery contribute to a dark, creepy atmosphere. Although these lines do establish that the poem will have a rhyme scheme (trees/seas), this purpose is secondary to the establishment of mood. These lines also hint at a setting, but give us no specifics--we learn later in the stanza that the setting is an inn near a purple moor. These lines provide no information about character or plot.

Passage adapted from Alfred Noyes' "The Highwayman" (1906)

Example Question #8 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

1. Better to see your cheek grown hollow,
2. Better to see your temple worn,
3. Than to forget to follow, follow,
4. After the sound of a silver horn.

5. Better to bind your brow with willow
6. And follow, follow until you die,
7. Than to sleep with your head on a golden pillow,
8. Nor lift it up when the hunt goes by.

9. Better to see your cheek grow sallow
10. And your hair grown gray, so soon, so soon,
11. Than to forget to hallo, hallo,
12. After the milk-white hounds of the moon.

The attitude of the author toward the reader can be described as all of the following EXCEPT ______________.

I   Gently enticing
II  Harshly berating
III Urgently pleading

Possible Answers:

II only

I and III only

II and III only

I only

III only

Correct answer:

I and III only

Explanation:

The poem as a whole can be read as an extended warning against living unconsciously. The author’s tone throughout is both enticing and pleading, but never harsh. Though she urges the reader to make the right choice, she does not berate him.

Passage adapted from Eleanor Wylie's "A Madman's Song" (1921)

Example Question #9 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Twentieth Century Poetry

1. Better to see your cheek grown hollow,
2. Better to see your temple worn,
3. Than to forget to follow, follow,
4. After the sound of a silver horn.

5. Better to bind your brow with willow
6. And follow, follow until you die,
7. Than to sleep with your head on a golden pillow,
8. Nor lift it up when the hunt goes by.

9. Better to see your cheek grow sallow
10. And your hair grown gray, so soon, so soon,
11. Than to forget to hallo, hallo,
12. After the milk-white hounds of the moon.

It can be inferred that the author sympathizes with which literary movement?

Possible Answers:

Classicism

Magic Realism

Symbolism

Romanticism

Postmodernism

Correct answer:

Romanticism

Explanation:

This poem is a clear example of literary Romanticism: it extols intense feeling, reveres nature and the irrational, and associates night and moonlight with heightened experience.

Passage adapted from Eleanor Wylie's "A Madman's Song" (1921)

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