SSAT Upper Level Reading : Making Inferences in Poetry Passages

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

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences 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!

Which of the following characteristics best describes nature according to this passage?

Possible Answers:

Intriguing

Mystery

Scientific

Vitality

Repugnance

Correct answer:

Vitality

Explanation:

Throughout this passage, the contrast is always between Faust's book learning and the power of nature. He wishes to know the powers from which nature arises, not the dusty knowledge that he has gained from own studies. His world is portrayed as being lifeless, dead, without energy. In contrast, nature itself is full of life and vigor. It has vitality. This best describes it.

Example Question #855 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

 
Adapted from "On the Sonnet" by John Keats (1848)
 
If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd,
   And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter'd, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,
   Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain'd
   By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
   Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
   Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
   She will be bound with garlands of her own.

It can be inferred that the underlined phrase "the Muse" refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

a poet's inspiration

critics of poetry taken as a single group

a large anthology of poems by different authors

the paper on which poetry is written

the ink with which poetry is written

Correct answer:

a poet's inspiration

Explanation:

In this line, "the Muse" refers to poetic inspiration, as the speaker is arguing that poetic inspiration should only be bound by factors inherently part of language.

Example Question #856 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

 
Adapted from "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley in Book of Verses (1888)
 
Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
 
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
 
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
 
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

Which of the following best describes the speaker's past?

Possible Answers:

Full of events the speaker finds embarassing

Devoted to helping other people

Associated with the armed forces

Lonely

Difficult and full of challenges

Correct answer:

Difficult and full of challenges

Explanation:

The poem indicates that the author's past was difficult and "full of challenges," as the speaker describes being "[I]n the fell clutch of circumstance" and experiencing "the bludgeonings of chance."

Example Question #2 : Making Inferences In Poetry Passages

 
Adapted from "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley in Book of Verses (1888)
 
Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
 
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
 
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
 
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

The meaning of the underlined phrase "the menace of the years" is closest in meaning to which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Mortality

The speaker's fear of forgetting his past as he ages

The speaker's desire to stay young

The speaker's relationship with a mean older person

The speaker's fear of pain

Correct answer:

Mortality

Explanation:

Consider the stanza in which the indicated phrase appears:

"Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid."
 
When the speaker says "The Horror of the shade," he or she is discussing death, so you can infer that "the menace of the years" has something to do with death. The best answer choice is thus "mortality."

Example Question #3 : Making Inferences In Poetry Passages

 
Adapted from "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley in Book of Verses (1888)
 
Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
 
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
 
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
 
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

Which of the following best conveys the implied meaning of the underlined line "It matters not how strait the gate"?

Possible Answers:

Challenges build character in the end.

Challenges can be withstood under certain conditions.

Difficulties transcend mundane, everyday occurances.

Difficulties do not all emerge in a universal way.

Challenges can be overcome regardless of their difficulty.

Correct answer:

Challenges can be overcome regardless of their difficulty.

Explanation:

The author is indicating here that no matter how difficult a circumstance is, there is a way through that difficulty and it can be overcome.

Example Question #4 : Making Inferences In Poetry Passages

 
Adapted from "On the Sonnet" by John Keats (1848)
 
If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd,
   And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter'd, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,
   Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain'd
   By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
   Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
   Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
   She will be bound with garlands of her own.

Which of the following is most central to the speaker's argument?

Possible Answers:

The process by which sandals are made

The sonnet form

The use of complex references in poetry

The story of King Midas

The translation of poetic works

Correct answer:

The sonnet form

Explanation:

"The sonnet form" is most central to the speaker's argument. The poem is urging poets to consider the inherent properties of language in order to make the poetic forms that they use best suit the language of the poems they compose. The sonnet form, an example of one of these strict poetic forms, is mentioned in the second line of the poem: "If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd, / And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet / Fetter'd." The poem never discusses the translation of poetic works or the use of complex references in poetry, and while sandals are mentioned ("Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd, / Sandals more interwoven and complete / To fit the naked foot of poesy,") they are mentioned as part of a figurative construction; the speaker is not literally wanting to make a pair of sandals; the "sandals" are here comparable to forms that better suit language. Similarly, while the story of King Midas is alluded to later in the poem ("Misers of sound and syllable, no less / Than Midas of his coinage"), it functions as part of a comparison and is not as central to the speaker's argument as is the sonnet form.

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