A test from the past

Dear ENG201Y 2002-2003:

This is an example of a test from the second term of ENG201Y 1996-1997.

The test is not comparable to the one that you will be writing in that:

  1. the poems are different,
  2. I required the students to include specific terms in their answers ("opposed couplets", "white space"),
  3. they had to write on 5 extracts rather than 4.

The "key" at the bottom of the document was composed from students’ real answers. Because you’re not familiar with the poems, the responses will seem more daunting to you. But pay attention to how the students identify a speci fic pattern, and then interpret it.


7 March 1997 ENG201Y: Test #2

Please write a complex (yet coherent) commentary on FIVE of the following (9) passages (5 x 10 = 50 marks). Because these passages have been arbitrarily extracted from their contexts, you may restrict your commentary to so me part of them. You should relate (succinctly) your reading of the passage in your interpretation of the poem.

You may consider whatever in the passage informs your reading of it. In general, considering figurative language and imagery (visual, kinesthetic, tactile, auditory, etc.) should be rewarding. You should also try to take in to account the concepts denoted by (some or all of) the (mostly formal) terms that precede each passage, but you will not be penalized for not doing this if your answer is complex, coherent, persuasive ...

Budget your time: 50 minutes, 50 marks. Go!

1. Opposed couplets, fricatives, plosives, iambic pentameter:

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie

Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.

The tigers in the panel that she made

Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.


2. White space, enjambment:

Cold, through the large steamed windows

I watch the gesturing weirdos,

the bloated breams that warm

up their aquarium.

Evolving backward, a river

becomes a tear, the real

becomes memory which

can, like fingertips, pinch


3. Free verse:

Scrambled, poached?

Kristin spins through air

like a whisk in milk

outside the low belch of septic tank

she says, I'll never brush my hair again.

It hangs a pale web around her neck.

Where do eggs come from?

4. Enjambment:

Nymph and faun in this dusk might riot

Beyond all oceaned Time's cold greenish bar

To shrilling pipes, to cymbals' hissing

Beneath a single icy star

5. Thematic structure (e.g., associative? logical? sequential?), rhyme:

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?


6. White space, free verse:

Some words

bedevil me.

Love is a word, another kind of open.

As the diamond comes into a knot of flame

I am Black because I come from the earth's inside

now take my word for jewel in the open light.



7. Stichic verse, free verse:

He lay on the couch night after night,

mouth open, the darkness of the room

filling his mouth, and no one knew

my father was eating his children. He seemed to

rest so quietly, vast body

inert on the sofa, big hand

fallen away from the glass.



8. Free verse, caesura, enjambment:

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral

In my Victorian nightgown.

Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try

Your handful of notes;

The clear vowels rise like balloons.


9. Anaphora, free verse:

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,

An afternoon of nurses and rumours;

The provinces of his body revolted,

The squares of his mind were empty,

Silence invaded the suburbs,

The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Test #2 Key (ENG201Y)


This key is composed of selected answers & complete answers.

1. The power subjugation of the aunt by her husband is expressed by the aunt's needlework. Her artwork becomes a site for the reification of repressed anger, emotion, talent, and energy—a static symbolization of the motion within he r. Her husband places a ring on her finger and, even when dead, that literal encircling of her finger escalates to become a metaphorical ringing of her identity ... The ferocity of the tigers, their motion and energy, are emblematic of the aunt's reaction to her situation—the ultimate irony, however, is that the tigers, characterized as active, forceful, and bold by the plosives of "prancing" and "proud", are just thread on a panel ...

1. The opposed couplets, contrasting [ay] with [eyd], seem to make the final stanza from "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" [seems] decisively contrastive. Lines 9 and 10 relate a feeling of death (i.e., "dead") and repression (i.e., "terrifi ed", mastered"). The second couplet is infused with life and activity. The proud tigers that prance unafraid stand in direct opposition to the terrified, mastered woman who created them. And yet, [the contrast may not be so clear:] one might suggest that the [ay] sound, I, in the first couplet asserts Aunt Jennifer's presence, her identity, in a repressive atmosphere. "I" is subtle, yet increasingly insistent. This affirmation of self leads into the second couplet with the tigers (who she wishes sh e could be, or once was). The [eyd] sound recalled the word aid, which means "help". In a couplet filled with pride, and courage, that cry for help seems almost out of place

2. This passage contrasts the speaker's external inaction with his internal agitation. The speaker stands outside the window of an old cafe he used to frequent in his younger days. He is presented as not moving: verbs associated wit h those on the inside are the dynamic "gesturing" (10) and "warm/up" (11-12), while the speaker himself is still and he "watch[es]" (10). Yet other verbs, aligned down the second strophe, denote movement on a more internal level: "Evolving", "becomes", "b ecomes", "can", presenting an image of internal growth and change, to evolve or become something else. Enjambment suggests the speaker's will and desire to move. The word "can" suggests his ability to make such a change. However, the lineation of the poe m also betrays his inevitable inaction: "river" and "real" are ideals which are separated from their verbs to show how unrealized they are in the speaker's life. The final verb, visually prominent at the end of line 16, is "pinch", bringing the speaker b ack to the realm of the physical (a painful realm at that).

2. The passage from "Café Trieste" is a study first in the nature of observation, before the white space, and in the non-linear activity of recollection, after the space.

In the first strophe the speaker appears to be outside the cafe, observing it from the perspective of a person who was once part of the social scene, but is now removed from it. Thermal imagery ("cold" vs. "steamed windows', "warm") gives the sense that the speaker is no longer warmed by the company and acceptance of the cafe community. Although the warmth of the cafe has not changed since his visit, his perspective on the warmth has. He now views the people (or types of people) he once associated with as though they were in an "aquarium", primed for just such observation. Time has changed the results of his observations. In the past, he may not have considered himself a "weirdo". Now, he sees his former social setting as brimming w ith them.

This change in the speaker's perception may be due to the time and experiences which separate his present self from his former one. This passage of time could be represented by the white space.

Following the white space the speaker reminisces. He proceeds through his memory in a "backward" direction ... Enjambment [linking fragments at the end of one line to the next] mimics the nature of memory, at once continuous and fra gmented. [Accessible] memories are interfered with by experiences which distance us from them: this is shown by the separation of "real" and "memory" on separate lines ...

2. These two stanzas seem to show the speaker less "touched" by what's in front of him than by what he remembers. Although the "gesturing weirdos" right in front of him might be himself years earlier, his distance from what he's obs erving is shown by the "steamed windows" and also by the fish imagery used to describe these human beings. This water imagery used to describe the "real" is transformed in the white space from a more human "aquarium" to a more natural "river", and the lin eation links "the real" with "the river" that it's being compared to. The line "a river/becomes a tear" shows how memory turns the "natural" into something more "human", and shrinks it. But it seems more complicated than this. A "tear" is small but powerf ul. And memory is vivid enough to "pinch"—it's like the "Cold" in the previous stanza. Then we wonder if the "weirdos" aren't in the present after all but perhaps are in his memory. Or perhaps by making us link memory's "pinch" with the present's "Cold" h e's just making the point that the product of memory is as real as anything.

3. The funny thing about eggs is that we (as humans) take something that is perfectly able to grow on its own and mold it. As the poem says, "Scrambled, poached?" (10). When did the egg lose the choice to be what it wants to be? "Kr istin", the girl in the poem, decides to reject being an egg. "Like a whisk in milk" (12) she will churn, and she will go against the grain. Her statement "I'll never brush my hair again" (14) parallels a "low belch of septic tank" (13). Her hair appears as "a pale web" (15). These comparisons make Kristin seem untamed, wild, spontaneous ...

4. This passage from Faulkner's "Twilight" appears to be quite sublime, as the speaker uses terms like "nymph" and "faun" as well as the colour "green" which intimate an [inviting and timeless] beauty, freshness and growth. Yet the linking of these images with more grotesque auditory imagery like the onomatopoeia of "shrilling pipes" and "hissing" "cymbals" gives the reader the impression that "twilight", that time between life and death, is both a thing of beauty and a time of drea d. The enjambment of the lines also gives the reader a sense of inexorable progression and movement that is undercut by words like "cold" and "icy" which add an odd sense of stasis and suspension. The tension created between stillness and motion defines " twilight" making it a transitional stage that is both alluring and reviled.

5. At first there may not appear to be a logic or an association between the analogues the speaker employs and yet it is apparent that foodstuffs and a "sort" find common ground in that they all connote a process. The verbs "dry up" , "fester", "run", and "stink" all contribute to this sense of a progression. Moreover, in each analogue, something has gone bad like "rotten meat" and a "sore" and needs to be purged. The fact that the pus eventually "runs" from the "sore" and the stench comes out of the "meat" is a clear sign that eventually tension and pressure, the weight of racism and oppression must "explode" and come to light.

5. The processes denoted by the similes all happen naturally without human intervention. If grapes are left in the sun, they will dry up. Meat not preserved will rot. In order to prevent drying up or rotting, human intervention must take place: human effort must be made in order to realize a dream. The four similes [denoting what seem increasingly like inevitable processes] show how the neglect of dreams continually happened in Hughes' Harlem.

5. The association of "dreams" with such tactile and organic imagery presents a contrast between the dream and its analogues (raisin, fester, meat, sugar) that makes the intangibility of a dream all the more "palpable." A dr eam, like these natural analogues, is represented as something finite and ephemeral, something produced. The rhyme pattern links the various analogues together, making them a coherent whole ... All the analogues represent natural processes, which help to metaphorically identify the nature of the dream. The dream is not some static, unchanging ineffable and unreachable "other" but an organic presence which is, like these analogues, manipulable and subject to forces—wherever or whatever the source of those forces may be. "Dream" is an abstract noun—these referents are concrete nouns. This collocation of abstract and concrete may be emblematic of the pressing and real presence that the speaker's dream plays in his life—"dream" isn't simplistically a word, bu t a dynamic, palpable process and product.

6. The white space between the stanzas serves to highlight the transition whereby language moves from being a system of barriers to a system communicative in its function. This interpretation can be supported especially with the jux taposition of the phrases "bedevil" and "love". The speaker realizes that although words can be bedeviling in their exclusivity and inadequacy to express, they can also transcend such barriers ...

6. This entire poem seems to be the speaker's expression of an attitude toward words as a feature of language (language as a system which she finds herself within). The open, articulation imagery throughout the poem strikes a distin ction between that which is presented to her—words—and the realization, articulation, and expression of those words and therefore the simultaneous expression and creation of identity. The speaker has a unique relationship with words, indicating her approp riation of each. This appropriation is indicated by her cataloguing the types of words and the attendant comparison of or likening of those types with various analogues. Explicit references to identity occur like bookends at the beginning and end of the p oem.//The middle section is most speculative in reference to the speaker's attitude to words. At the end of such speculation occurs lines 21 and 22. After this final speculation, there is a momentary, silent white space and then a final articulation and e xpression of identity. The final strophe is like a momentous expression and affirmation of identity. Finally, the speaker leaves the "bedevil[ing]" quality of speculation and enters, instead, into self-expression—the release of words that she feels comfor table with —the open vessels which best express her identity—the open spaces that allow for the creative movement of her identity. "black" in the first strophe could merely denote a colour, but "Black" in this strophe denotes a classification for people—a type of open that the speaker has accepted and then realized through for the expression of her identity.

6. ...it is hard to know how this transformation happens. Maybe it is ironic: just as a diamond is created from compressing coal (the "knot of flame"), so Black self-worth is created by the long process of white prejudice. But it se ems more mysterious than that. Perhaps the white space symbolizes that mystery—we move right from the narrow negative lines 21-22 to the expansive line 23. Perhaps "Love" is the cause rather than the result? that "Love" can overcome all this opposition an d oppression?

7. The stichic verse makes it impossible to separate the beast-like man who eats his children from the human being who sleeps on the couch ... Though the image of a father eating his child is an allusion to mythology and may give th e impression that the abuse is not real, use of such banal terms like "crunch" and "glass" reminds us that this is true life ... That such violence is ongoing is emphasized by the phrase "night after night" and by the enjambment of the lines ...

7. "Saturn" describes how a father abused his children. Because he's compared to a mythic figure who energetically ate his children it's hard to tell if the father was that active or whether his passive neglect of them is being comp ared to such a violent action in order to point out that neglect is just another kind of abuse. The passage emphasizes the father's body. The beginnings of the lines stress how immobile he is: "He lay", "rest", "inert", "fallen". The ends of these lines r einforce the impression as they show his "vast body" and "big hand" motionless. But the phrases sound frightening, too, big (esp for a child), maybe suggesting the enormity of his inaction. His mouth gets most emphasis. Saturn used his mouth to eat his ch ildren; this father drinks ("glass" a clue) and snores "mouth open", apparently finished his consuming for the day but not really, as he's actually consuming his children. The darkness is both where he sleeps but also a sign of terror (the children's and, since the poem gets cyclic later, his). The suspension of "no one knew" and "He seemed to" shows both his apparent inaction but also the ignorance or maybe taboo surrounding it.

8. This passage ... epitomizes the overwhelming feeling of distance between a mother and child. The use of animal imagery is particularly effective, removing a sense of humanity from both mother and child. The caesuras give the pass age a mechanical sense of stop-and-go which the enjambments also reinforce: the sense of the woman being nothing more than a machine emphasizes the distance she feels from her newly born child. The imagery of windows whitening and the disappearance of sta rs signals the arrival of morning. The enjambment of these images make the scene appear endless and leaves us with a sense that the distance between the mother and child transcends both space (the white space in this case) and time.

8. ...The enjambment is aptly placed, suggesting a transition between night and day, and also a shift in the tone of the poem. The window square "whitens" as daylight approaches. In this light, the infant seems more real, les s dangerous to the mother. It tries out its voice, the sounds it makes rising "like balloons", a more innocent image. Yet the separation remains; the balloons float upwards. Though the child's sounds [are more like speech] they are not understood and beco me unattainable to the speaker. There is still no connection.

9. This poem shows how immortal poetry will survive the mortal poet who wrote it, although the poetry may be changed. This passage shows the death of Yeats. "His last afternoon as himself" is an odd way of describing someone about t o die as it implies that tomorrow he won't actually be dead. This turns out not to be a euphemism (which we might expect in an elegy) but the truth: his death releases his poetry and his identity, which take on a life of their own in the world.

The imagery used to describe Yeats in this passage helps the transition from a mortal public man to his public: his body is described as a country with "provinces", "squares", and "suburbs". The comparison makes him seem both lifele ss and important; not everyone has their body compared to a country! The anaphora is interesting. The repetition of "The" shows us that it takes a while for life to leave: he is hanging onto life. The anaphora also makes us think about the order of the wo rds. "Provinces" and "squares" seem rather administrative, and therefore lifeless, and the shrinking in size also corresponds to the loss of life. But "suburbs" and "current" seem more alive, as people live in the suburbs, and even though the current is f ailing, we still think about currents, about life. Just as Yeats is dying, the imagery inversely gets more animated, perhaps hinting that something else is subtly coming to life. This is much more subtle than at the end of this poem, when poetry is suppos ed to bring the human race back to life.