SSAT Upper Level Reading : Poetry

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

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Poetry

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 functions as an image for Faust’s knowledge?

Possible Answers:

His study

The other teachers

The fountains

The free lands

The moon

Correct answer:

His study

Explanation:

Faust's study is described as being dusty, filled with worm-eaten boks, stuffed, and packed. This is his world—the world of his learning. It lacks the vibrancy of the true forces of nature. He does not know reality as such, and his study has become just like his learning.

Example Question #1 : Poetry

 
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.

The tone of the author can best be described as which of the following?

Possible Answers:

ecstatic

critical

enraged

sarcastic

didactic

Correct answer:

critical

Explanation:

Since the poem seeks to underline the problems inherent in strictly sticking to the sonnet form, it can best be described as "critical" in tone. None of the other answer choices are supported by the poem: its tone is certainly not "didactic" (aiming to teach the reader something), "ecstatic," "sarcastic," and while the speaker may be frustrated with the limitations of the sonnet form, "enraged" is too strong of a word to properly capture the poem's tone.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Tone 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 tone of the passage can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

uncaring

shy

bitter

earnest

frantic

Correct answer:

earnest

Explanation:

The tone can best be described as "earnest," or determined in nature.

Example Question #2 : Poetry

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!

How is humanity contrasted with God in this passage?

Possible Answers:

As the source of life and the scientific investigator of life

As two poles of the same living reality

They are not contrasted.

God is the giver and man has destroyed the gift of life

As truly living and nearly dead

Correct answer:

They are not contrasted.

Explanation:

The only real discussion of God in this whole passage is, "In living Nature's stead, where God His human creature set . . ." Here, Faust is speaking of how God placed the human creature in nature. However, this does not really provide any contrast other than, perhaps, "creator and creature." This is not really provided in any of the answer choices, so the best option is simply "They are not contrasted."

Example Question #1 : Poetry

 
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.

The main purpose of this poem by John Keats is __________.

Possible Answers:

to motivate poets to remain inspired even when criticized

to encourage poets to work past the limitations created by strict formal conventions

to explain how to create aesthetic beauty in poetry 

to foster collaboration amongst poets

to contest the notion that poets are bound by form 

Correct answer:

to encourage poets to work past the limitations created by strict formal conventions

Explanation:

The best answer in this case is that the poem's main purpose is "to encourage poets to work past the limitations created by strict formal conventions." The poem can be summarized as saying "If we poets must work within forms with strict rules, like sonnets, let's examine the properties of language to make the forms we use best suit the language of the poems we write."

Example Question #3 : Poetry

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!

To what does the underlined word “eye” refer?

Possible Answers:

The moon's light

The eyes of Faust's students

The light of reason

The gaze of the learned world

The magical spirits

Correct answer:

The moon's light

Explanation:

In this paragraph, Faust is directly addressing the moon as though it were a person. He refers to it as though it had "looked" down upon him through all these years. Therefore, its "gaze" or "eye" has been on him—particularly through its light. We might call this the moon's eye or the moon itself.

Example Question #3 : Poetry

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 is meant by “germs” in the underlined phrase?

Possible Answers:

The powerful diseases found in nature

The true forces of nature

None of the other answers are correct.

The sources of Faust's frustrations

The secret spirits upon which Faust calls

Correct answer:

The true forces of nature

Explanation:

Note the whole sentence in which this selection is found: "All that I may detect the inmost force that binds the world and guides its course: its germs, productive powers explore, and rummage in empty words no more!" Faust wants to understand what nature really is—not merely in words as he has learned in so many different ways. He wants to understand the forces of nature. A "germ" is a small principle from which something larger can grow. The germ cells in an organism are the source of sperm or eggs—from which full organisms grow.

Example Question #2 : Poetry

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!

To what are contrasted the underlined “fleshless dead / And bones of beasts”?

Possible Answers:

Nature

None of the other answer choices are correct.

God

The human creature

Smoke

Correct answer:

Nature

Explanation:

The language used here is a bit poetic, so we need to do some translating perhaps. The whole sentence reads, "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." This could be translated, "In place of living nature, in which God had originally set the human creature, I have surrounded myself with the dead and lifeless bones of beasts." Therefore, the "fleshless dead / And bones" are contrasted with nature's vitality.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words 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.

The underlined word "lyre" most nearly means which of the following?

Possible Answers:

a type of stringed instrument

a person with a grating voice

a specific type of pen

a page in a book

someone who does not tell the truth

Correct answer:

a type of stringed instrument

Explanation:

The lines in which the word "lyre" is used contain a context clue that can help you answer this question:

"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"

The speaker is suggesting that "every chord" be examined. Only one of the answer choices is capable of producing a chord, and that is "a type of stringed instrument."

Example Question #1 : Poetry

 
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 underlined word "fell" in the second stanza of the poem is closest in meaning to which of the following words?

Possible Answers:

Inspiring

Fortunate

Imaginary

Lingering

Terrible

Correct answer:

Terrible

Explanation:

Consider the context in which the word "fell" is used:

"In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud."
 
The "clutch of circumstance" here is being described by "fell," and it is something that the speaker is saying has not made him "[wince]" or "[cry] aloud." There would be no reason for the speaker to wince or cry aloud if "fell" meant "inspiring" or "fortunate," "imaginary," or "lingering." "Fell," therefore, must mean something like "terrible" for the lines to make sense, and it does—"fell" means ferocious and evil.
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