AP English Literature : Summarizing, Describing, or Paraphrasing Excerpts

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Summarizing, Describing, Or Paraphrasing Excerpts

From “The Dead” in Dubliners by James Joyce (1915)

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did no like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Gabriel's experience at the end of the passage can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

a nightmare

a premonition

a dream

an epiphany

the culmination of a journey

Correct answer:

an epiphany


An "epiphany" is a sudden realization, moment of clarity, or insight into the deeper meaning of something. Gabriel experiences a moment of spiritual clarity and is suddenly able to understand the nature of life and death.

Example Question #1 : Author, Tone, And Intent

From “Essay on Liberty” by John Stuart Mill

Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision. Born in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, "i maëstri di color che sanno," the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived—whose fame, still growing after more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious—was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in denying the gods recognized by the State; indeed his accuser asserted (see the Apologia) that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in being, by his doctrines and instructions, a "corrupter of youth." Of these charges the tribunal, there is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty, and condemned the man who probably of all then born had deserved best of mankind, to be put to death as a criminal.

To pass from this to the only other instance of judicial iniquity, the mention of which, after the condemnation of Socrates, would not be an anti-climax: the event which took place on Calvary rather more than eighteen hundred years ago. The man who left on the memory of those who witnessed his life and conversation, such an impression of his moral grandeur, that eighteen subsequent centuries have done homage to him as the Almighty in person, was ignominiously put to death, as what? As a blasphemer. Men did not merely mistake their benefactor; they mistook him for the exact contrary of what he was, and treated him as that prodigy of impiety, which they themselves are now held to be, for their treatment of him. The feelings with which mankind now regard these lamentable transactions, especially the later of the two, render them extremely unjust in their judgment of the unhappy actors. These were, to all appearance, not bad men—not worse than men most commonly are, but rather the contrary; men who possessed in a full, or somewhat more than a full measure, the religious, moral, and patriotic feelings of their time and people: the very kind of men who, in all times, our own included, have every chance of passing through life blameless and respected. The high-priest who rent his garments when the words were pronounced, which, according to all the ideas of his country, constituted the blackest guilt, was in all probability quite as sincere in his horror and indignation, as the generality of respectable and pious men now are in the religious and moral sentiments they profess; and most of those who now shudder at his conduct, if they had lived in his time, and been born Jews, would have acted precisely as he did. Orthodox Christians who are tempted to think that those who stoned to death the first martyrs must have been worse men than they themselves are, ought to remember that one of those persecutors was Saint Paul.

What does Mill mean by the underlined selection, “and most of those who now shudder at his conduct, if they had lived in his time, and been born Jewish, would have acted precisely as he did"?

Possible Answers:

Most people in Mill's day condemned the high priest for what he did, but they secretly thought he was correct in his actions.

Most people in Mill's day believed they would never have killed Jesus, but were they alive in his day, they likely would have participated in the killing.

Few could agree with what happened to Jesus, though they certainly could be shown that there was some reason for it.

Most people in Mill's day were complete hypocrites and bigots.

None of the other answers is correct.

Correct answer:

Most people in Mill's day believed they would never have killed Jesus, but were they alive in his day, they likely would have participated in the killing.


This selection means that most people were repulsed at the idea of how Jesus was killed—they shuddered at it. However, Mill states that if they had been alive at the time of Jesus' life, subject to all the same pressures as those alive then, these same people would likely have acted just as did the high priest, killing Jesus.

Example Question #1 : Meaning Of Specified Text: Drama

Adapted from Act 1, Scene 1, ln. 78-119 of The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1604) in Vol. XIX, Part 2 of The Harvard Classics (1909-1914)


FAUSTUS: How am I glutted with conceit of this!

Shall I make spirits fetch me what I please,

Resolve me of all ambiguities,

Perform what desperate enterprise I will?

I’ll have them fly to India for gold,

Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,

And search all corners of the new-found world

For pleasant fruits and princely delicates;

I’ll have them read me strange philosophy

And tell the secrets of all foreign kings;

I’ll have them wall all Germany with brass,

And make swift Rhine circle fair Wittenberg;

I’ll have them fill the public schools with silk,

Wherewith the students shall be bravely clad;

I’ll levy soldiers with the coin they bring,

And chase the Prince of Parma from our land,

And reign sole king of all the provinces;

Yea, stranger engines for the brunt of war

Than was the fiery keel at Antwerp’s bridge,

I’ll make my servile spirits to invent.


Come, German Valdes and Cornelius,

And make me blest with your sage conference.

Valdes, sweet Valdes, and Cornelius,

Know that your words have won me at the last

To practice magic and concealed arts:

Yet not your words only, but mine own fantasy

That will receive no object, for my head

But ruminates on necromantic skill.

Philosophy is odious and obscure,

Both law and physic are for petty wits;

Divinity is basest of the three,

Unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile:

’Tis magic, magic, that hath ravish’d me.

Then, gentle friends, aid me in this attempt;

And I that have with concise syllogisms

Gravell’d the pastors of the German church,

And made the flowering pride of Wittenberg

Swarm to my problems, as the infernal spirits

On sweet Musaeigus, when he came to hell,

Will be as cunning as Agrippa was,

Whose shadows made all Europe honor him.

In the underlined and bolded section of the passage, Faustus makes which of the following arguments?

Possible Answers:

He argues that earthly academic pursuits are beneath him, and his listeners should aid him in mastering his new interest, the occult.

He argues that conventional divinity can be defeated by argument, and that the occult cannot.

He argues that conventional divinity is misapplied, and asks for his listeners in correcting practices of that discipline.

He argues that because he is interested in occult practices he must resign his academic position.

He argues that doctors, priests, and lawyers are beneath pure academics, and that only scholars should he entitled to help in mastering the occult.

Correct answer:

He argues that earthly academic pursuits are beneath him, and his listeners should aid him in mastering his new interest, the occult.


In the underlined and bolded section of the passage, Faustus argues that earthly academic pursuits—"philosophy", law and physic, and "divinity"—are all "base," "odious," etc., and that his listeners should help him ("gentle friends aid me in this attempt") master his new interest the occult (which he claims has "ravished" him).

He includes academics with doctors and lawyers in his dismissal of conventional, earthly learning. He makes no mention of his academic position, nor of resigning. While he later claims to have defeated "pastors" with "syllogism," he does not mention that in the indicated section, nor does he specifically claim that the occult cannot also be defeated in this manner (although that is implied). While he feels divinity is the "basest" of academic disciplines, he does not ask his listeners for any help in correcting it.

Example Question #1 : Summarizing, Describing, Or Paraphrasing Excerpts

Adapted from “The Habit of Perfection” in Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1919)


Elected silence, sing to me

And beat upon my whorlèd ear,

Pipe me to pastures still and be

The music that I care to hear.


Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:

It is the shut, the curfew sent

From there where all surrenders come

Which only makes you eloquent.


Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark

And find the uncreated light:

This ruck and reel which you remark

Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.


Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,

Desire not to be rinsed with wine:

The can must be so sweet, the crust

So fresh that come in fasts divine!


Nostrils, your careless breath that spend

Upon the stir and keep of pride,

What relish shall the censers send

Along the sanctuary side!


O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet

That want the yield of plushy sward,

But you shall walk the golden street

And you unhouse and house the Lord.


And, Poverty, be thou the bride

And now the marriage feast begun,

And lily-colored clothes provide

Your spouse not labored-at nor spun.

Which of the following lines uses metaphoric imagery?

Possible Answers:

"What relish shall the censers send . . ."

"The music that I care to hear . . ."

"Nostrils, your careless breath that spend . . ."

"Elected silence, sing to me . . ."

"Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark . . ."

Correct answer:

"Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark . . ."


Among the options given, the only line that extends the literal meaning of a word in a metaphoric way is the one that speaks of the eyes being "shellèd." This uses the idea of having a "shell" in a way that is not the standard sense, for eyes do not have shells (of course). This means, "Be covered and do not look or see the world."

Example Question #12 : Other Content Analysis Questions: 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.

The underlined and bolded excerpt is most accurately paraphrased by which of the following?

Possible Answers:

The speaker is explaining why he or she wishes to travel with Death, and is making Death assurances that he or she will not steal from him or her or demand romantic love.

The speaker is defiantly rejecting Death’s advances, proclaiming him- or herself neither a lover of Death, nor a beneficiary of Death’s gifts.

The speaker is explaining the parameters of the relationship he or she would ask of Death, and in so doing is demonstrating his or her fear and ambivalence about Death’s embrace.

The speaker is making promises and assurances about his or her own demands of Death, in hopes that Death will visit him or her and bestow its wisdom and power upon him or her.

The speaker is explaining the parameters of the relationship he or she would ask of “Death,” and in so, doing is expressing his or her belief that true friendship is a companionship, rather than a relationship based on exchange or romantic desire.

Correct answer:

The speaker is explaining the parameters of the relationship he or she would ask of “Death,” and in so, doing is expressing his or her belief that true friendship is a companionship, rather than a relationship based on exchange or romantic desire.


The speaker is here explaining the parameters of the relationship he or she would like with death, and through this is demonstrating his or her beliefs about true, platonic friendship. His or her statement that he or she “will not harry [Death’s] treasure-graves” suggests that the speaker is not looking for death’s rewards, power, or wisdom. He or she is not explaining why he or she wishes to travel, merely asserting that he or she “craves” to do so" and making assurances about the parameter of the companion relationship. The speaker does not demonstrate either fear or ambivalence, and is actively asking for Death’s companionship, not rejecting Death’s advances.

Example Question #1 : Summarizing, Describing, Or Paraphrasing Excerpts

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (1818)

Shutting the door, [the monster] approached me and said in a smothered voice, "You have destroyed the work which you began; what is it that you intend? Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery; I left Switzerland with you; I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands and over the summits of its hills. I have dwelt many months in the heaths of England and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes?"

"Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness."

"Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!"

"The hour of my irresolution is past, and the period of your power is arrived. Your threats cannot move me to do an act of wickedness, but they confirm me in a determination of not creating you a companion in vice. Shall I, in cool blood, set loose upon the earth a daemon whose delight is in death and wretchedness? Begone! I am firm, and your words will only exasperate my rage."

The monster saw my determination in my face and gnashed his teeth in the impotence of anger. "Shall each man," cried he, "find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict."

"Devil, cease; and do not poison the air with these sounds of malice. I have declared my resolution to you, and I am no coward to bend beneath words. Leave me; I am inexorable."

"It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding night."

I started forward and exclaimed, "Villain! Before you sign my death-warrant, be sure that you are yourself safe."

I would have seized him, but he eluded me and quit the house with precipitation. In a few moments I saw him in his boat, which shot across the waters with an arrowy swiftness and was soon lost amidst the waves.

All was again silent, but his words rang in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the mainland. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. And then I thought again of his words—"I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT." That, then, was the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny. In that hour I should die and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice. The prospect did not move me to fear; yet when I thought of my beloved Elizabeth, of her tears and endless sorrow, when she should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her, tears, the first I had shed for many months, streamed from my eyes, and I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle.

Which of the following might the monster have said to summarize the remarks made in the underlined paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Your control over me is ended.

I may owe you a debt, but you will someday see that I am independent.

My power is at a new height, and you are the source of that strength.

You thought you were quite intelligent, but I have now finally managed to outwit you.

You will not see the light of day, pitiful fool.

Correct answer:

Your control over me is ended.


This whole paragraph hinges on the ironic circumstances of the role reversal between Dr. Frankenstein and the monster. The scientist created the monster, but after the passage of time, the latter has become independent and able to exact revenge upon his creator. Thus, the best option is the one that states that it is the monster who is now in control.

Example Question #231 : Ap English Literature And Composition

Adapted from Richard III by William Shakespeare, I.i.1-42

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

Which of the following best captures the theme of the underlined lines, lines 1-13?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



"War" and "entertainment" are equally relevant to the underlined selection, as a time of war is depicted as haven given way to a time of peaceful pastimes. "Seasons" is only relevant as part of the metaphor presented in the first four lines, so it cannot be the theme of the entire selection, and while "exclusion" is certainly a theme of the passage taken as a whole, the narrator has not related how the shift from wartime to peacetime has personally affected himself. This leaves us with the correct answer, "change." An overarching theme of the first thirteen lines of the passage is the change from a society at war to a society at peace.

Example Question #1 : Summarizing, Describing, Or Paraphrasing Excerpts

Adapted from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" in Leaves of Grass (1855)


Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!
Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.


The impalpable sustenance of me from all things at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme, myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the future,
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings, on the walk in the street and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them,
The certainty of others, the life, love, sight, hearing of others. 

Others will enter the gates of the ferry and cross from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.


It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.

I too many and many a time cross’d the river of old,
Watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls, saw them high in the air floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies and left the rest in strong shadow,
Saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual edging toward the south,
Saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams . . .

The narrator’s tone in lines 1-3 (underlined) is best described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



There is a clear sense of wonder about the everyday world, emphasized through the use of exclamation marks. This suggests jubilation.

Example Question #1 : Summarizing, Describing, Or Paraphrasing Excerpts

Adapted from "Sonnet 73" by William Shakespeare


That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou seest the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire

Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

The speaker’s tone in the final couplet of the poem (lines 13-14) is primarily one of __________.

Possible Answers:

unqualified pessimism

tenuous hope

tempered remorse

presumptuous self-assuredness

cautious cynicism

Correct answer:

tenuous hope


The correct answer is tenuous hope. The final couplet of the poem presents a glimmer of hope in the face of the bleak outlook on aging evident in the first twelve lines. While the first twelve lines of the poem see the speaker describe his physical decline into old age and contemplate the death which will inevitably follow, the final couplet returns the poem’s focus to a present tense in which the speaker and his loved one can be together, and love one another despite the looming specter of death. The final couplet therefore is not altogether pessimistic, nor does it demonstrate great self-assuredness—the speaker does not deny that his lover must leave him “ere long,” or that he will eventually die.

Example Question #512 : Sat Subject Test In Literature

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.

Which of the following is a reasonable paraphrase of the underlined stanza?

Possible Answers:

Do not tarnish the moral stature of science by shedding the blood of innocent, powerless creatures.

Do not risk the integrity of your home, and do not take pride in an endeavor as lowly and unspiritual as scientific experimentation.

Do not waste your time, and risk ruining your home, by experimenting on such lowly creatures in it.

Do not tarnish your home by killing an innocent being in it; to do so would be to betray a creature who has shared your home for a long time.

Do not tarnish your home by killing an innocent being in it, and do not take pride in your power over a lowly, powerless creature.

Correct answer:

Do not tarnish your home by killing an innocent being in it, and do not take pride in your power over a lowly, powerless creature.


The most accurate paraphrase of the highlighted expert is "Do not tarnish your home by killing an innocent being in it, and do not take pride in your power over a lowly, powerless creature." In this context, the "hospitable hearth" is the addressee's home, the "stain[ing]" of this home is most likely to be a metaphorical tarnishing. In this context "triumph" most closely means "take pride."

The stanza focuses on the lowly, powerless innocence of the mouse, not the fact that he has shared the home (unwillingly as a prisoner). There is no real concern for the moral standing of science in general, only for the addressee's morality.

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