SAT II Literature : Figurative Language

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #11 : Figurative Language: Poetry

Midway upon the journey of our life

  I found myself within a forest dark,

  For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say

  What was this forest savage, rough, and stern, (5)

  Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;

  But of the good to treat, which there I found,

  Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

According to the text, what does the “forest” (line 2) represent?

Possible Answers:

A midlife crisis

Exodus to a strange land

Negative thinking

Frightening but ill-defined turmoil

Death 

Correct answer:

Frightening but ill-defined turmoil

Explanation:

We can see in lines 4-5 the speaker’s difficulty in naming what the forest represents: “how hard a thing it is to say /  What was this forest savage, rough, and stern.” We can also see that this forest is barely less bitter than death. This implies that the forest, while frightening, is not itself death. There is less textual support for midlife crisis, exodus, or negative thinking.

Passage adapted from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, trans. Charles Eliot Norton (1920)

Example Question #11 : Figurative Language: Poetry

I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.

Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.

We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.

While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.

A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts. (5)

My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.

Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.

The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.

The speaker uses figurative language of all but which of the following types?

Possible Answers:

Medicinal

Agrarian

Religious

Avian

Domestic

Correct answer:

Religious

Explanation:

The speaker uses agrarian terms with the mention of “vineyards” (line 6). We see an avian reference with the comparison of the lover’s eyes to “doves’” (line 7). We have medicinal references with the herbs “spikenard,” “myrrh,” and “camphire” (lines 4, 5, 6). Lastly, we have domestic language with the description of the bed, house beams, and rafters (lines 8-9).

Passage adapted from the “Song of Solomon,” King James Bible.

Example Question #11 : Figurative Language

I met a traveller from an antique land

  Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

  Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

  Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

  And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,(5)

  Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

  Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

  The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

  And on the pedestal these words appear:

  "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;(10)

  Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

  Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

  Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

  The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Based on context, what is the meaning of “antique land” (line 1)?

Possible Answers:

Nation famed for its longevity

Kingdom from antiquity

Country of little importance

Secret place only discussed in old writings

Country full of antiques

Correct answer:

Kingdom from antiquity

Explanation:

We know from later lines in the poem that this antique land’s monuments are now in ruin and that its rulers are long dead, which helps us rule out some of the choices. We are looking for the answer that best describes a once-great empire, and “kingdom from antiquity” is the best fit.

Passage adapted from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (1818)

Example Question #14 : Figurative Language: Poetry

So live, that when thy summons comes to join   

The innumerable caravan, which moves   

To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   

His chamber in the silent halls of death,   

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,     (5)

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed   

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,   

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

(1817)

Based on context, what is likely meant by “[t]he innumerable caravan” (line 2)?

Possible Answers:

Angels

The deceased

Purgatory

Death

Sinners

Correct answer:

The deceased

Explanation:

The phrase in question refers not to death itself but to the collective dead. We can tell this by the fact that the addressee is told how to “join” the caravan and that the caravan moves to “that mysterious realm” (i.e. an afterlife). “Sinners” is too specific an answer, and none of the other choices can be substituted into the poem and make as much sense.

Passage adapted from William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” (1817)

Example Question #13 : Figurative Language

1 Infer the wilds which next pertain. 

2 Though travel here be still a walk,

3 Small heart was theirs for easy talk.

4 Oblivious of the bridle-rein

5 Rolfe fell to Lethe altogether,

6 Bewitched by that uncanny weather

7 Of sultry cloud. And home-sick grew

8 The banker. In his reverie blue

9 The cigarette, a summer friend,

10 Went out between his teeth—could lend

11 No solace, soothe him nor engage.

12 And now disrelished he each word

13 Of sprightly, harmless persiflage

14 Wherewith young Glaucon here would fain

15 Evince a jaunty disregard.

16 But hush betimes o’ertook the twain—

17 The more impressive, it may be,

18 For that the senior, somewhat spent,

19 Florid overmuch and corpulent,

20 Labored in lungs, and audibly. 

 

(1876)

What is meant when the cigarette is described as "a summer friend" (line 9)?

Possible Answers:

It is enjoyable only at times of happiness

It is most enjoyable in hot weather

It can only be acquired in summer

It is best enjoyed in the leisure of old age

It is pleasing only in the character's youth

Correct answer:

It is enjoyable only at times of happiness

Explanation:

The "banker" (line 8) who is smoking this cigarette is in a depressed mood. We are told that he is "home-sick" (line 7), and that he is indulging in a "blue" reverie (line 8). In lines 10-11 we are told that the cigarette cannot "lend him solace," "soothe" him, or "engage" him. In short, the cigarette is not pleasing or comforting to him in his sadness. The description of the cigarette as "a summer friend" (line 9), then, means that smoking is enjoyable to this person in "summer" in a figurative, emotional sense--it is an enjoyable pastime only when he is already happy.

Passage adapted from Herman Melville's epic poem Clarel (1876).

Example Question #255 : Overall Language Or Specific Words, Phrases, Or Sentences

Passage adapted from "In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound (1919)



The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

What is the effect of placing the two images, "faces" and "petals,"  side by side in the poem?

Possible Answers:

The poem compares the two images to one another simultaneously

The two images are both things the speaker noticed in the metro station

None of these

The two images are unrelated

Correct answer:

The poem compares the two images to one another simultaneously

Explanation:

Ezra Pound places the two images side by side in order to compare their relative emotional impact on him. He has created a metaphor without using any connective words: he doesn't say the faces are petals, nor does he say the faces are like petals, because the comparison between the two images is based completely on his impression rather than a literal or objective interpretation of the objects.

Example Question #256 : Overall Language Or Specific Words, Phrases, Or Sentences

I saw thee once—once only—years ago: 

I must not say how many—but not many. 

It was a July midnight; and from out 

A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring, 

Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,   (5)

There fell a silvery-silken veil of light, 

With quietude, and sultriness and slumber, 

Upon the upturn'd faces of a thousand 

Roses that grew in an enchanted garden, 

Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe—   (10)

In line 5, what is meant by “a precipitate pathway”?

Possible Answers:

A rainy path

A direct route

A walkway through the enchanted garden

An earnest unspoken connection between lovers

A tragic misunderstanding

Correct answer:

A direct route

Explanation:

While “precipitation” often describes rain, “precipitous” means sudden or hasty. In the context of a soul’s ascension to heaven, it stands to reason that “precipitous” might imply directness and a lack of delays. None of the other choices make sense in context.

Passage adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s “To Helen” (1831)

Example Question #257 : Overall Language Or Specific Words, Phrases, Or Sentences

I saw thee once—once only—years ago: 

I must not say how many—but not many. 

It was a July midnight; and from out 

A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring, 

Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,   (5)

There fell a silvery-silken veil of light, 

With quietude, and sultriness and slumber, 

Upon the upturn'd faces of a thousand 

Roses that grew in an enchanted garden, 

Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe—   (10)

Based on context, what is the “silvery-silken veil of light” (line 6)?

Possible Answers:

A metaphor for the addressee’s radiance

The addressee’s clothing

A moonbeam

A metaphor for the speaker’s sudden epiphany

Candlelight

Correct answer:

A moonbeam

Explanation:

This question requires reading all the way back to line 3, where the sense of the sentence originates: “…from out / A full-orbed moon… There fell a silvery-silken veil of light…” The only light that falls from the moon is moonbeams.

Passage adapted from Edgar Allan Poe’s “To Helen” (1831)

Example Question #14 : Figurative Language

To sit on rocks, to muse o'er flood and fell,

To slowly trace the forest's shady scene,
Where things that own not man's dominion dwell,
And mortal foot hath ne'er or rarely been;
To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,
With the wild flock that never needs a fold;
Alone o'er steeps and foaming falls to lean;
This is not solitude, 'tis but to hold
Converse with Nature's charms, and view her stores unrolled.

But midst the crowd, the hurry, the shock of men,
To hear, to see, to feel and to possess,
And roam alone, the world's tired denizen,
With none who bless us, none whom we can bless;
Minions of splendour shrinking from distress!
None that, with kindred consciousness endued,
If we were not, would seem to smile the less
Of all the flattered, followed, sought and sued;
This is to be alone; this, this is solitude!

The second stanza of the poem offers a view of solitude that can best be described as _________________

Possible Answers:

anaphora

caricature

invective

paradox

allegory

Correct answer:

paradox

Explanation:

Byron describes a sense of solitude in the midst of a crowd. Physically, this does not make sense, but since he is describing a sense of of both intellectual and emotional isolation, it is possible to be in the midst of a crowd and feel isolated. Thus, "paradox" is the best answer choice.

Passage adapted from George Gordon (Lord Byron)'s "Solitude" (1813)

Example Question #15 : Figurative Language

  1. One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
  2. But came the waves and washed it away:
  3. Again I wrote it with a second hand,
  4. But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
  5. Vain man, said she, that doest in vain assay
  6. A mortal thing so to immortalize,
  7. For I myself shall like to this decay,
  8. And eek my name be wiped out likewise.
  9. Not so (quoth I), let baser things devise
  10. To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
  11. My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
  12. And in the heavens write your glorious name.
  13. Where whenas Death shall all the world subdue,
  14. Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Time is symbolized by what in the poem?

Possible Answers:

Decay

The beloved's name

The heavens

The poet's verses

The waves

Correct answer:

The waves

Explanation:

Time is symbolized by the waves. Each time the poet writes the beloved’s name in the sand, the waves erase it, just as time eventually erases every living thing. Decay [line 7] is a consequence of time, but it is not used as a symbol for it. The beloved’s name is at first seen as a victim of time, but again, it does not symbolize time itself. The poet's verses are the agent by which time and death will be defeated.

Passage adapted from Edmund Spenser's "Sonnet 75" (1594)

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