Midterm Exam Practice

As I mentioned on the Midterm Exam Prep page, for the exam I will be providing the claim for you to argue. The assessment will be all about how well you prove the claim I give you. Remember that this is not a race to finish as quickly as possible! The poem you encounter will be interesting in many different ways, and accessible through a variety of literary approaches. You will not be able to confine yourself to one technique you know very well and then ignore the other elements of textual analysis — even if you’re the world grand champion talker-about diction, if the poem I give you doesn’t do many interesting things with its word choice you’ll be kind of stuck grasping at straws come exam time. Don’t let this happen to you!

A good way to prevent falling into a critical rut is to practice using a variety of techniques to prove an assertion. So here are three practice texts to argue about, and three claims to prove. To practice this, assume you have 40 minutes (after puzzling through some multiple choice questions for 20 minutes, let’s say), and I don’t think it would be wise to let you choose the poem, since you won’t have that choice on the exam. So address yourself to the number that corresponds to the netvibes column your blog falls on: left=1, middle=2, right=3. If you wish to write on a different poem, especially for #3, please write me an email and let me know. I will provide you a different prompt.

  1. In James Merrill’s “The Black Swan,” the speaker notices the startlingly ironic blackness of a swan (which normally is white) within a particularly beautiful setting as a sublime example of nature’s ability to push back against human expectations. But even in recognizing the alienation of the swan among its peers, the speaker is drawn to it strongly, signalling a feeling of kinship between the swan and him that verges on its becoming a metaphor for his own self-conscious isolation.
  2. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “The Wind-Hover” describes a hovering kestrel as a metaphor for Christ: the bird’s ability to stay perfectly motionless despite the strong gust of wind signifies the sublime miraculousness of the speaker’s faith in a controlling hand behind all things. The poem, a strange and unconventional love sonnet, scrunches together the meter of the line in order to call attention to the order-amid-chaos that his faith validates, and the loving diction he employs for the bird also depict a very particular kind of unsexy devotion.
  3. W. B. Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” writes of the perverse trauma and horror of rape (that of Leda by Zeus in the form of a swan) in order to display how the consequences of such acts are tremendously far-reaching, unknowable, and even ironic. This perverted love sonnet represents the sublime incomprehensibility of the act, which made that moment reverberate far into the future in ambiguous ways.

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