SSAT Upper Level Reading : Context-Dependent Meanings of Words and Phrases in Poetry Passages

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

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

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 #851 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

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 true forces of nature

The secret spirits upon which Faust calls

The powerful diseases found in nature

The sources of Faust's frustrations

None of the other answers are correct.

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.

Example Question #1 : Language In The Passage

 
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 "fettered" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

strengthened

read

spoken

restrained

freed

Correct answer:

restrained

Explanation:

Consider the opening lines of the poem in which the word "fettered" occurs: "If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd, / And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet / Fetter'd . . ." "Fettered" is parallel to "chain'd" in the poem, so we can infer that the two words may have similar meanings, which in this case, they do. It wouldn't make sense for "fettered" to mean strengthened or freed, since in the preceding line, the poet is saying "If . . . our English must be chained." To follow this phrase with a phrase that would mean "and if the sonnet were freed" or "and if the sonnet were strengthened," as it would not logically pair with the preceding conditional phrase. We're looking for a word with a negative connotation to match up with "chain'd," so neither "spoken" nor "read" can be correct, since neither of those words has a negative connotation in this context. This leaves us with one remaining answer choice, "restrained." This is the correct answer. "Fetters" are manacles, usually specifically manacles worn on the ankles, so to be "fettered" is to be manacled, or in other words, chained up.

Example Question #852 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

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!

Why does Faust say “poor fool” in the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

He should have studied more medicine than theology.

He has found that he still knows not reality, though he has studied much.

He has wasted his time studying the wrong subjects.

He has spent his time working with idiots.

He has broken many noses while working in various fields.

Correct answer:

He has found that he still knows not reality, though he has studied much.

Explanation:

Although the whole passage confirms the answer to this question, the immediate context does provide adequate clarity: "With all my lore I stand, no wiser than before." With all of his learning, Faust still is not wise—at least he thinks he is not. Indeed, this is confirmed by his remarks, "And seen, that nothing can be known!" As you read on, you get the sense that he does not know the "inside" of things—their secret powers and meanings—even after such study.

Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Phrases 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!

What are the "empty words" about which Faust remarks?

Possible Answers:

The pedantry of scholarly knowledge

None of the other answers are correct.

The empty conversations had between teacher and student

The foolishness of human honors

The piecemeal nature of social custom

Correct answer:

The pedantry of scholarly knowledge

Explanation:

Throughout the beginning of this passage, Faust has expressed his displeasure at all of his learning. It has provided him with little to know knowledge. The "words" of such learning are without meaning—they are empty. He wishes to have such empty words no more but instead to have true knowledge of reality.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors