SAT II Literature : Tone, Style, and Mood: Poetry

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Poetry

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14)

1          Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
2          As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
3          That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
4          Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
5          I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
6          Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
7          Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
8          But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
9          Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
10        But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
11        Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
12        Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
13        Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
14        Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The tone of this sonnet is best described as                         .

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



The tone of this sonnet, with its call for divine ravishing and violence, can best be described as sensual.

Example Question #2 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Poetry

Passage adapted from Sonnet 12 by William Shakespeare (1609)
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silvered o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard;
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow,
  And nothing 'gainst Time’s scythe can make defense
  Save breed to brave him when he takes thee hence.

The speaker believes that ________________ is the only way to immortalize oneself against the passage of time. 

Possible Answers:

being beautiful

having children

getting married

planting crops

Correct answer:

having children


The word "breed" in line 14 "Save breed to brave him when he takes thee hence" refers to a man having children. "To brave him" is to defy time itself, "him" here referring to "Time" in line 13. "When he takes thee hence" is a metaphor for death, meaning "when time takes you away."

Example Question #3 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Poetry

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I 

Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then? 
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly? 
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den? 
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be. 
If ever any beauty I did see, 
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.  

And now good-morrow to our waking souls, 
Which watch not one another out of fear; 
For love, all love of other sights controls, 
And makes one little room an everywhere. 
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown, 
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one. 

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, 
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest; 
Where can we find two better hemispheres, 
Without sharp north, without declining west? 
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally; 
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I 
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.


The speaker’s tone is best described as _______________.

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



The speaker's extravagant and sustained metaphors for love indicate a sense of celebration and enthusiasm. The poem is a kind of rhapsody about love. 

While the speaker is certainly devoted to the idea of love, he imagines that love as equal, so "obsequious" doesn't fit. And while the speaker also mediates on the idea of "fancies," he ultimately sees these as inferior to the love he's now achieved; "whimsical," therefore, doesn't fit either.

Passage adapted from John Donne's "The Good Morrow" (1633).

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Poetry

Passage adapted from "To Some Ladies" (1817) by John Keats

What though while the wonders of nature exploring,
  I cannot your light, mazy footsteps attend;
Nor listen to accents, that almost adoring,
  Bless Cynthia's face, the enthusiast's friend:

(5) Yet over the steep, whence the mountain stream rushes,
  With you, kindest friends, in idea I rove;
Mark the clear tumbling crystal, its passionate gushes,
  Its spray that the wild flower kindly bedews.

Why linger you so, the wild labyrinth strolling?
 (10) Why breathless, unable your bliss to declare?
Ah! you list to the nightingale's tender condoling,
  Responsive to sylphs, in the moon beamy air.

'Tis morn, and the flowers with dew are yet drooping,
  I see you are treading the verge of the sea:
(15) And now! ah, I see it—you just now are stooping
  To pick up the keep-sake intended for me.

If a cherub, on pinions of silver descending,
  Had brought me a gem from the fret-work of heaven;
And smiles, with his star-cheering voice sweetly blending,
  (20) The blessings of Tighe had melodiously given;

It had not created a warmer emotion
  Than the present, fair nymphs, I was blest with from you,
Than the shell, from the bright golden sands of the ocean
  Which the emerald waves at your feet gladly threw.

(25) For, indeed, 'tis a sweet and peculiar pleasure,
  (And blissful is he who such happiness finds,)
To possess but a span of the hour of leisure,
  In elegant, pure, and aerial minds.

The speaker's overall tone can best be described as _____________.

Possible Answers:

repressed frustration 

righteous indignation

open contempt 

plain indifference 

melodramatic romanticism

Correct answer:

melodramatic romanticism


The author uses expressive, extremely romantic language throughout the poem. The heightened tone of the language often rises to the melodramatic. This question could also have been solved by eliminating the other options. The tone of the poem can, at its most dire, be described as melancholic. All of the other options suggest a tone that is far more negative than the one seen in the poem.

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Eighteenth And Nineteenth Century 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!

What is the tone of this passage?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



Poe’s joyful descriptions of the titular bells makes “euphoric,” or elated, the best description for the passage’s tone. The work is hardly dilettantish (amateur) or diabolical (fiendishly evil). It is also not equivocal (ambiguous) or bemused (puzzled, bewildered).

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

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Poetry

… Come, my friends,

’T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths     (5)   

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

What is the tone of lines 1-6?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



These lines implore, urge, or exhort the audience to join the speaker on his imminent journey. They are not insinuating (suggestive), imprecating (cursing), or extorting (coercing money from). They are also not admonishing, or cautionary, lines; rather, they encourage the listeners to throw caution to the wind.

Passage adapted from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” (1842).

Example Question #4 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Eighteenth And Nineteenth Century Poetry

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.


What is the tone of this poem?

Possible Answers:






Correct answer:



The poem is optimistic in its discussion of hope and hope’s merits. The meter and rhyme scheme are also short, light, and almost nursery rhyme-esque. The poem is certainly not melancholy (sad) or intransigent (stubborn and uncompromising). It is also not maudlin (excessively sentimental) or glamorous (beautiful, luxurious).

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

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood: 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, 


Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

The tone of the poem can be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

didactic and objective

scathing and dissatisfied

wistful and nostalgic

sentimental and naive

remorseful and ashamed

Correct answer:

scathing and dissatisfied


The tone can be described as scathing and dissatisfied because of the harsh, critical language the poet uses to describe springtime and existence. When analyzing tone, it is important to look for key, notable words or phrases that stand out, in this case "idiot" in the last line, "an empty cup" in line 15, are clear indicators of a generally negative tone. Phrases and lines such as "it is not enough" and "But what does that signify?" suggest a sense of dissatisfaction.

Example Question #1 : Tone, Style, And Mood

1 'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
2 Appear in writing or in judging ill;
3 But, of the two, less dang'rous is th' offence
4 To tire our patience, than mislead our sense.
5 Some few in that, but numbers err in this,
6 Ten censure wrong for one who writes amiss;
7 A fool might once himself alone expose,
8 Now one in verse makes many more in prose.
9        'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
10 Go just alike, yet each believes his own.
11 In poets as true genius is but rare,
12 True taste as seldom is the critic's share;
13 Both must alike from Heav'n derive their light,
14 These born to judge, as well as those to write.
15 Let such teach others who themselves excel,
16 And censure freely who have written well.
17 Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true,
18 But are not critics to their judgment too?

The tone of this passage could be characterized as __________________.

Possible Answers:

confident and optimistic

outraged and harsh

flattering and sweet

insincere and bitter

critical and light

Correct answer:

critical and light


The tone of this passage could be described as "critical and light." The tone could be called "critical" because the speaker's main topic is criticizing critics, or poets, or quite possibly both. That is, the speaker is pointing out faults of bad critics--see for instance, lines 1, 2, and 12. The tone could also be characterized as "light" because the criticism is witty and good-natured, not harsh or angry.  

Passage adapted from Alexander Pope's poem An Essay on Criticism (1711).  

Example Question #7 : Tone, Style, And Mood: Eighteenth And Nineteenth Century Poetry

1 Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell: 
  No god, no demon of severe response, 
  Deigns to reply from heaven or from hell. 
  Then to my human heart I turn at once--
5 Heart! Thou and I are here sad and alone; 
  Say, wherefore did I laugh? O mortal pain! 
  O darkness! darkness! ever must I moan, 
  To question heaven and hell and heart in vain! 
9 Why did I laugh? I know this being's lease--
  My fancy to its utmost blisses spreads: 
  Yet could I on this very midnight cease, 
  And the world's gaudy ensigns see in shreds.
13  Verse, fame, and beauty are intense indeed, 
      But death intenser--death is life's high meed.


The speaker's tone in this poem is best described as _________________.

Possible Answers:

joyful and energetic

optimistic and self-assured

sarcastic and detached

awe-struck and insistent

angry and accusing

Correct answer:

awe-struck and insistent


The tone of the poem could be described as "awe-struck and insistent."  As early as the first line--"Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell"--the speaker is expressing awe and wonderment at something he cannot understand.  Therefore the tone is "awe-struck." The tone could also be described as "insistent" because the speaker returns insistently to the same question again and again.

Passage adapted from "Why did I laugh tonight?" by John Keats (1819)

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