SAT II Literature : Form, Structure, Grammar, and Syntax

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #61 : Form, Structure, Grammar, And Syntax

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;    (5)

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;   (10)

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

(1886)

What form is this poem?

Possible Answers:

Pantoum

Elegy

Sonnet

Hymn

Villanelle

Correct answer:

Hymn

Explanation:

This poem is what’s known as a homiletic – a hymn- or sermon-like treatment of a topic. This type of poem praises or even exalts that topic in somewhat simple, repetitive language. This is a common approach in Emily Dickinson’s poetry, although it’s now largely considered antiquated.

Passage adapted from Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers” (1886)

Example Question #18 : Structure And Form: Poetry

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.

The use of the underlined word "pensive" in the first line is most likely intended to do what?

Possible Answers:

To create dramatic irony, as while the mouse clearly believes himself a "prisoner," the audience knows that he is, in fact, a beloved pet

To create irony and humor, as the mouse's assertion of its own intelligence is clearly undermined in the next three lines

To draw attention to the speaker as a thinking, perceiving individual consciousness, setting up his later pleas for equal ethical consideration

To draw attention to the speaker's free-thinking religious beliefs, which have led to his persecution and imprisonment

To draw attention to the speaker's extreme intelligence and rationality, setting up his later justification of his experiments on the mouse

Correct answer:

To draw attention to the speaker as a thinking, perceiving individual consciousness, setting up his later pleas for equal ethical consideration

Explanation:

The use of "pensive" in this context is intended to draw attention to the speaker's (a mouse being experimented on) individual subjectivity. By framing himself as a "pensive" individual (a conscious being able to think and perceive), the speaker sets up his later pleas for equal ethical consideration. Because he is "pensive," it is wrong to deny him the opportunity to experience "nature" and the "never dying flame" of intellectual engagement as he sees fit.

While the petition is framed as a "prisoner's prayer," and some unconventional religious beliefs are discussed in some later stanzas, the implication is that the mouse is only being detained for the purpose of being experimented on, not persecuted for his beliefs. The line is intended to be read sincerely, not with irony. The rest of the poem asserts the mouse's ability to perceive the world in an individual fashion, and the mouse is a research subject, not a beloved pet. The speaker is the mouse being experimented on, not the researcher conducting the experiment.

Example Question #71 : Interpreting Words

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.

In the bolded and underlined excerpt, the pairing of "little" with "all" is used to do what? (Note that the italics are included in the original text.)

Possible Answers:

To create irony and to illustrate the foolishness of dismissing any aspect of mortal existence

To create irony and to illustrate the necessity of releasing all animals from human captivity

To illustrate the relative unimportance of human comfort in the face of global environmental concerns

To create irony and to illustrate the foolishness of extending ethical consideration to non-human creatures

To illustrate the relative unimportance of any individual perceiving consciousness in a complex, constantly varying universe

Correct answer:

To create irony and to illustrate the foolishness of dismissing any aspect of mortal existence

Explanation:

The pairing of "little" with "all" in this context is used to create irony, and to illustrate the foolishness of dismissing any aspect of mortal existence. The "little all" that is being referred to here is personal freedom, in addition to literal access to open space and sunlight, which is hardly a "little" thing. The pairing of "little" and "allL here ironizes and shows the failings of ethical systems which apply varying levels of ethical consideration to conscious beings for arbitrary reasons.

Global environmental concerns are not at issue in this poem. The poem is actually arguing for the importance of all individual perceiving consciousness in a complex, constantly varying universe. While it stands to reason that the speaker would advocate for the release of all animals from captivity, in this context that issue is not specifically at play, and the larger issue of ethical reasoning is more specifically being treated.

Example Question #61 : Form, Structure, Grammar, And Syntax

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 MOST conventional aspect of this poem is which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Its use of imagery in relation to death

Its use of personification

Its characterization of night

Its rhyme structure

Its treatment of mortality as a concept

Correct answer:

Its rhyme structure

Explanation:

This poem features a straightforward alternating ABAB rhyme structure in each of its stanzas. Meanwhile, its treatment of Death as a welcome companion is certainly unconventional, as is its extensive and idiosyncratic personification and characterization and its use of imagery in relation to death (Death’s embrace as the welcoming, encompassing hug of a friend, rather than, for example, a bony hand grasping someone’s ankle).

Example Question #21 : Structure And Form: Poetry

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

To what purpose, April, do you return again?

Beauty is not enough.

You can no longer quiet me with the redness 

Of leaves opening stickily.

I know what I know.  5

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?  10

Not only under the ground are the brains of men

Eaten by maggots.

Life in itself

Is nothing,

An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.  15

It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 

April

Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

This poem is an example of __________.

Possible Answers:

a villanelle

blank verse

a ballad

free verse

iambic tetrameter

Correct answer:

free verse

Explanation:

This poem is written in free verse because it does not use a consistent meter or rhyme scheme. "Blank verse" refers to unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. "A ballad" is a poem set to music, often narrative in its content. "A villanelle" consists of nineteen lines (five tercets and a quatrain) with a repeating rhyme structure. "Iambic tetrameter" refers to a form of meter that consists of four beats ("tetra") in the iambic foot.

Example Question #21 : Structure And Form: Poetry

Adapted from "Old Man Traveling" by William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798 ed.)

The little hedge-row birds,
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought—He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
"Sir! I am going many miles to take
"A last leave of my son, a mariner,
"Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth,
And there is dying in an hospital."

The juxtaposition of the man's calmness and the information he gives the speaker in the last four underlined lines shows __________.

Possible Answers:

that grief can be so great it can make a person completely unresponsive

that the man is incapable of strong emotions

that there is no point in having strong emotions after the death of a son

that the man has reached a level of peace where he can confront even harsh facts

that outliving your children is the epitome of futility

Correct answer:

that the man has reached a level of peace where he can confront even harsh facts

Explanation:

We must infer from the information given to us by the speaker what the juxtaposition shows us. There is nothing to suggest, from the small amount of information, that the man cannot experience strong emotions, and the fact that the narrator punctuates the poem with the man's son's death shows he wants to emphasize that strong emotions probably should accompany the death of a son. We know the narrator does not want us to consider futility as he or she is full of praise for the old man. We also know the old man is most certainly not unresponsive as he is willing to engage with the speaker. So, we can conclude that the man has reached a level of peace where he can be stoic in the face of death or where his oneness with the world prevents him from falling into hysterics.

Example Question #21 : Structure And Form: Poetry

Passage adapted from "Poetry" by Marianne Moore (1919)

Poetry

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. 
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine. 

Considering the title, which word best describes the initial tone of this poem?

Possible Answers:

Cynical 

Contemptuous

Ironic

Pedantic

Correct answer:

Ironic

Explanation:

The tone is ironic because of the poem's context. The author describes her distaste for the "fiddle" of poetry in a poem, giving an almost satirical critique of the form and its cultural context. If the author's opinion about poetry were plain, uncomplicated, and unironic, we would expect her to write her analysis of poetry in a different form.

Example Question #61 : Form, Structure, Grammar, And Syntax

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? 
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date: 
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; 
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st; 
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. 

This poem is an example of which poetic form?

Possible Answers:

Epic

Sonnet

Limerick 

Sestina

Correct answer:

Sonnet

Explanation:

A sonnet loosely defined as any poem of exactly fourteen lines, with various subtypes. This poem, by William Shakespeare, is an example of a Shakespearean sonnet. It is written in iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme of ABAB (end-rhymes every other line) until the final couplet, which rhymes CC (two lines rhymed back-to-back). 

Passage adapted from Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" (1609)

Example Question #25 : Structure And Form: 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)

This type of poem is a ___________________.

Possible Answers:

terza rima

villanelle

Petrarchan sonnnet

ballad

Shakespearean sonnet

Correct answer:

Shakespearean sonnet

Explanation:

This poem is in fact a Shakespearean sonnet, which is obvious because it fulfills all the requirements of a Shakespearean sonnet:

It has fourteen lines.

It is written in iambic pentameter.

It is written in some way on the topic of love.

It has the following rhyme scheme:  ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG.

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

Example Question #26 : Structure And Form: 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 meter of the poem serves to emphasize _______________.

Possible Answers:

the speaker’s religious faith

the speaker’s rigidly limited circumstances

the poem’s allegorical meaning

the emptiness of the speaker’s existence

the speaker’s reverence for the dead

Correct answer:

the speaker’s rigidly limited circumstances

Explanation:

The poem is in blank verse: a relatively regular meter that emphasizes the speaker's straitened life circumstances. Instead of "rebelling" and bursting out into free verse, the speaker is constrained by the even rhythm of iambic pentameter.

There is no textual evidence for the other answer choices. There is no suggestion that the speaker is religious, or that she feels reverence for the dead; the poem is not an allegory; the speaker's existence may be empty, but there's no clear connection between that and the sound of blank verse.

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