SSAT Upper Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Phrases in Poetry Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Upper Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #3 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Poetry Passages

Adapted from Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, ln. 1-77 (1808; trans. Taylor 1870)

I've studied now Philosophy
And Jurisprudence, Medicine, -
And even, alas! Theology,
From end to end, with labor keen;
And here, poor fool! with all my lore
I stand, no wiser than before.
I'm Magister—yea, Doctor—hight,
And straight or cross-wise, wrong or right,
These ten years long, with many woes,
I've led my scholars by the nose,—
And see, that nothing can be known!
That knowledge cuts me to the bone.
I'm cleverer, true, than those fops of teachers,
Doctors and Magisters, Scribes and Preachers;
Neither scruples nor doubts come now to smite me,
Nor Hell nor Devil can longer affright me.
For this, all pleasure am I foregoing;
I do not pretend to aught worth knowing.
I do not pretend I could be a teacher
To help or convert a fellow-creature.
Then, too, I've neither lands nor gold,
Nor the world's least pomp or honor hold—
No dog would endure such a cursed existence!
Wherefore, from Magic I seek assistance,
That many a secret perchance I reach
Through spirit-power and spirit-speech,
And thus the biter task forego
Of saying the things I do not know,—
That I may detect the inmost force
Which binds the world, and guides its course;
Its germs, productive powers explore,
And rummage in empty words no more!

O full and splendid Moon, whom I
Have, from this desk, seen climb the sky
So many a midnight,—would thy glow
For the last time beheld my woe!
Ever thine eye, most mournful friend,
O'er books and papers saw me bend;
But would that I, on mountains grand,
Amid thy blessed light could stand,
With spirits through mountain-caverns hover,
Float in thy twilight the meadows over,
And, freed from the fumes of lore that swathe me,
To health in thy dewy fountains bathe me!

Ah, me! This dungeon still I see.
This drear, accursed masonry,
Where even the welcome daylight strains
But duskly through the painted panes.
Hemmed in by many a toppling heap
Of books worm-eaten, gray with dust,
Which to the vaulted ceiling creep,
Against the smoky paper thrust,—
With glasses, boxes, round me stacked,
And instruments together hurled,
Ancestral lumber, stuffed and packed—
Such is my world: and what a world!

And do I ask, wherefore my heart
Falters, oppressed with unknown needs?
Why some inexplicable smart
All movement of my life impedes?
Alas! In living Nature’s stead,
Where God His human creature set,
In smoke and mold the fleshless dead
And bones of beasts surround me yet!

Fly! Up, and seek the broad, free land!
And this one Book of Mystery
From Nostradamus’ very hand,
Is’t not sufficient company?
When I the starry courses know,
And Nature’s wise instruction seek,
With light of power my soul shall glow,
As when to spirits spirits speak.
'Tis vain, this empty brooding here,
Though guessed the holy symbols be:
Ye, Spirits, come—ye hover near—
Oh, if you hear me, answer me!

Why does Faust say “poor fool” in the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

He has spent his time working with idiots.

He has found that he still knows not reality, though he has studied much.

He has broken many noses while working in various fields.

He has wasted his time studying the wrong subjects.

He should have studied more medicine than theology.

Correct answer:

He has found that he still knows not reality, though he has studied much.

Explanation:

Although the whole passage confirms the answer to this question, the immediate context does provide adequate clarity: "With all my lore I stand, no wiser than before." With all of his learning, Faust still is not wise—at least he thinks he is not. Indeed, this is confirmed by his remarks, "And seen, that nothing can be known!" As you read on, you get the sense that he does not know the "inside" of things—their secret powers and meanings—even after such study.

Example Question #4 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Poetry Passages

Adapted from Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, ln. 1-77 (1808; trans. Taylor 1870)

I've studied now Philosophy
And Jurisprudence, Medicine, -
And even, alas! Theology,
From end to end, with labor keen;
And here, poor fool! with all my lore
I stand, no wiser than before.
I'm Magister—yea, Doctor—hight,
And straight or cross-wise, wrong or right,
These ten years long, with many woes,
I've led my scholars by the nose,—
And see, that nothing can be known!
That knowledge cuts me to the bone.
I'm cleverer, true, than those fops of teachers,
Doctors and Magisters, Scribes and Preachers;
Neither scruples nor doubts come now to smite me,
Nor Hell nor Devil can longer affright me.
For this, all pleasure am I foregoing;
I do not pretend to aught worth knowing.
I do not pretend I could be a teacher
To help or convert a fellow-creature.
Then, too, I've neither lands nor gold,
Nor the world's least pomp or honor hold—
No dog would endure such a cursed existence!
Wherefore, from Magic I seek assistance,
That many a secret perchance I reach
Through spirit-power and spirit-speech,
And thus the biter task forego
Of saying the things I do not know,—
That I may detect the inmost force
Which binds the world, and guides its course;
Its germs, productive powers explore,
And rummage in empty words no more!

O full and splendid Moon, whom I
Have, from this desk, seen climb the sky
So many a midnight,—would thy glow
For the last time beheld my woe!
Ever thine eye, most mournful friend,
O'er books and papers saw me bend;
But would that I, on mountains grand,
Amid thy blessed light could stand,
With spirits through mountain-caverns hover,
Float in thy twilight the meadows over,
And, freed from the fumes of lore that swathe me,
To health in thy dewy fountains bathe me!

Ah, me! This dungeon still I see.
This drear, accursed masonry,
Where even the welcome daylight strains
But duskly through the painted panes.
Hemmed in by many a toppling heap
Of books worm-eaten, gray with dust,
Which to the vaulted ceiling creep,
Against the smoky paper thrust,—
With glasses, boxes, round me stacked,
And instruments together hurled,
Ancestral lumber, stuffed and packed—
Such is my world: and what a world!

And do I ask, wherefore my heart
Falters, oppressed with unknown needs?
Why some inexplicable smart
All movement of my life impedes?
Alas! In living Nature’s stead,
Where God His human creature set,
In smoke and mold the fleshless dead
And bones of beasts surround me yet!

Fly! Up, and seek the broad, free land!
And this one Book of Mystery
From Nostradamus’ very hand,
Is’t not sufficient company?
When I the starry courses know,
And Nature’s wise instruction seek,
With light of power my soul shall glow,
As when to spirits spirits speak.
'Tis vain, this empty brooding here,
Though guessed the holy symbols be:
Ye, Spirits, come—ye hover near—
Oh, if you hear me, answer me!

What are the "empty words" about which Faust remarks?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers are correct.

The pedantry of scholarly knowledge

The foolishness of human honors

The piecemeal nature of social custom

The empty conversations had between teacher and student

Correct answer:

The pedantry of scholarly knowledge

Explanation:

Throughout the beginning of this passage, Faust has expressed his displeasure at all of his learning. It has provided him with little to know knowledge. The "words" of such learning are without meaning—they are empty. He wishes to have such empty words no more but instead to have true knowledge of reality.

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