SAT II Literature : Context, Speaker, and Addressee

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee: Poetry

1          Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
2          My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.
3          Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
4          Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
5          Oh, could I lose all father now! For why
6          Will man lament the state he should envy?
7          To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
8          And if no other misery, yet age!
9          Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, "Here doth lie
10        Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry,
11        For whose sake, henceforth, all his vows be such
12        As what he loves may never like too much."

Who is the speaker of this poem?

Possible Answers:

An anonymous grieving father

The speaker cannot be determined

A sorrowful playmate of the deceased

The grieving father and poet, Ben Jonson

A friend of Ben Jonson

Correct answer:

The grieving father and poet, Ben Jonson


The speaker of this poem is the grieving father and poet, Ben Jonson. "Here doth lie / Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry," (Lines 9–10)

Example Question #141 : Content

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1          How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
2          I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
3          My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
4          For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
5          I love thee to the level of everyday's
6          Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
7          I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
8          I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
9          I love thee with the passion put to use
10        In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
11        I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
12        With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
13        Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
14        I shall but love thee better after death.

For whom is this poem likely intended?

Possible Answers:

The speaker's friend


The speaker's lover

The speaker's soul

The lost saints

Correct answer:

The speaker's lover


This poem is very likely intended for the speaker's lover as evidenced by the first line "How do I love thee?" and subsequent lines. Note the number of lines that begin with "I love thee." God, the lost saints, and the speaker's soul are used only to articulate the speaker's love for another.

Example Question #1 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee

1    Devouring time, blunt thou the lion's paws,

2    And Make the earth devour her own sweet brood; 

3    Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,

4    And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood; 

5    Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet'st

6    And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed time,

7    To the wide world and all her fading sweets;

8    But I forbid thee one most heinous crime, 

9    O carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,

10  Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen.

11  Him in thy course untainted do allow,

12  For yet beauty's pattern to succeeding men.

13     Yet do thy worst, old time; despite thy wrong,

14     My love shall in my verse ever live young. 



To whom is the poet speaking? 

Possible Answers:

None of the answers 

The poet's beloved 

People in general 

A young man 


Correct answer:



The poet is speaking to time. The poem begins with the apostrophe "Devouring time," (line 1). In line 6, the poet says, "And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed time." The poet also ends by telling time to "do thy worst, old time" (line 13).


(Passage adapted from "Sonnet 19" by William Shakespeare)

Example Question #1 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee

A Late Walk

1          When I go up through the mowing field,
2          The headless aftermath,
3          Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
4          Half closes the garden path.

5          And when I come to the garden ground,
6          The whir of sober birds
7          Up from the tangle of withered weeds
8          Is sadder than any words

9          A tree beside the wall stands bare,
10        But a leaf that lingered brown,
11        Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
12        Comes softly rattling down.

13        I end not far from my going forth
14        By picking the faded blue
15        Of the last remaining aster flower
16        To carry again to you.

The speaker in the poem is very probably addressing                      .

Possible Answers:

a legal adviser

a fellow veteran

a stranger

a loved one

an acquaintance

Correct answer:

a loved one


The speaker in the poem is very probably addressing a loved one as he picks "again" for him or her, in the last stanza, the last remaining aster flower.

Example Question #54 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Ideas In Humanities Passages

Thou ill-form’d offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, expos’d to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could:
I wash’d thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun cloth, i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ’mongst vulgars mayst thou roam.
In critics' hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus’d her thus to send thee out of door.

All of the following emotions can be attributed to the speaker EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:


None of the other answers is correct.

justifiable pride

grudging acceptance


Correct answer:

justifiable pride


While Bradstreet at turns expresses embarassment and self-deprecation about her poetry, and finally accepts that her poems are now out in the world whether she wants them to be or not, she does not give evidence of any particular pride in this.

Passage adapted from "The Author to Her Book" by Anne Bradstreet (1678)

Example Question #4 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee: Poetry

1 Those lines that I before have writ do lie,

  Even those that said I could not love you dearer;

  Yet then my judgment knew no reason why

  My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.

5 But reckoning Time, whose million'd accidents 

  Creep in 'twixt vows and change decrees of kings, 

  Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp'st intents, 

  Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;

9 Alas, why, fearing of Time's tyranny, 

  Might I not then say 'Now I love you best,' 

  When I was certain o'er incertainty, 

  Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?

13 Love is a babe; then might I not say so,

   To give full growth to that which still doth grow? 


The speaker of the poem is addressing _______________.

Possible Answers:

a former lover

a group of people

a fellow poet

a current lover and recipient of previous poetry

a king for whom the poetry is written

Correct answer:

a current lover and recipient of previous poetry


The poet is addressing a beloved for whom he has written poetry before, and whom he continues to love. Lines 1-2 make it clear that the addressee is the subject of previous poems. By referring to love as "that which still doth grow" in line 14, the poet makes it clear that he still loves the addressee, and indeed, continues to love this person more and more as time passes.

Passage adapted from Shakespeare's "Sonnet 115" (1609)

Example Question #1 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee: Poetry

1 They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,

2 Love and desire and hate:

3 I think they have no portion in us after

4 We pass the gate. 


5 They are not long, the days of wine and roses:

6 Out of a misty dream

7 Our path emerges for a while, then closes

8 Within a dream. 


"Us" (line 3), "we" (line 4), and "our" (line 7) refer to whom?

Possible Answers:

Humanity in general

Spirits who appear in dreams

A specific group of friends who celebrate together

The speaker and his beloved

The speaker

Correct answer:

Humanity in general


This poem is a meditation on the briefness of not one specific human life, but human life in general. It discusses the common experience of all people that life is "not long" (lines 1, 5). Thus, when the poet mentions "us" or "we," he is referring not to any specific people, but to all of humankind, of which he is a part.

Passage adapted from "They are not long" by Ernest Dowson (1896)

Example Question #2 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee: Poetry

Of arms I sing, and of the man, whom Fate

First drove from Troy to the Lavinian shore.

Full many an evil, through the mindful hate

Of cruel Juno, from the gods he bore,

Much tost on earth and ocean, yea, and more   (5)

In war enduring, ere he built a home,

And his loved household-deities brought o’er

To Latium, whence the Latin people come,

Whence rose the Alban sires, and walls of lofty Rome.

In line 3, what does “Full many an evil” refer to?

Possible Answers:

The narrator’s worship of unholy deities

The narrator’s past deeds

The foundation of Rome

The hardships the narrator endured

The Latin people’s response to the narrator’s arrival

Correct answer:

The hardships the narrator endured


Read with line 4, we get the phrase “Full many an evil… he bore,” which answers the question easily. The phrase in line 3 thus describes the narrator’s many travails in his journey to found Rome.

Passage adapted from Virgil’s Aeneid, trans. E. Fairfax Taylor. (1907)

Example Question #7 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee: Poetry

… It is morning. I stand by the mirror 

And tie my tie once more. 

While waves far off in a pale rose twilight  

Crash on a white sand shore. 

I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:(5) 

How small and white my face!— 

The green earth tilts through a sphere of air 

And bathes in a flame of space.  

There are houses hanging above the stars 

And stars hung under a sea...     (10)

And a sun far off in a shell of silence 

Dapples my walls for me....


Based on context, the narrator likely sees himself as which of the following?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



In line 6, the narrator exclaims: “How small and white my face!” This exclamation, coupled with the narrator’s reverence for the enormous world around him, indicates that diminutive (small) is the best choice. Chary (cautious, wary) and quizzical (puzzled) have no textual support. Similarly, pugnacious (aggressive) and ageless cannot be supported by the text.

Passage adapted from Conrad Aiken’s “Morning Song From ‘Senlin.’” Modern American Poetry, ed.Louis Untermeyer. (1919)

Example Question #1 : Context, Speaker, And Addressee: Poetry

Hear the mellow wedding bells, 

Golden bells! 

What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!

Through the balmy air of night

How they ring out their delight!(5)

From the molten golden-notes, 

And all in tune,

What a liquid ditty floats 

To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats

On the moon!(10)

Oh, from out the sounding cells,

What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!

Which word in this passage best encapsulates what the poet is trying to imitate?

Possible Answers:

Gush (line 12)

Sounding cells (line 11)

Happiness (line 3)

Euphony (line 12)

Ditty (line 8)

Correct answer:

Euphony (line 12)


Through his use of lush imagery, pleasing rhymes, and careful diction, Poe is depicting the harmonious, dulcet sound of bells. “Euphony,” which means a harmonious sound or collection of sounds, is the best description of Poe’s accomplishment. While “sounding cells” also alludes to the auditory nature of the passage, it is a neutral and therefore less optimal choice.

Passage adapted from "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe (1850)

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