The English 241 Mid-Term Exam

Examples of Strong Responses

Spring 2005

 Part I -- Identify the excerpt (author/title), then state the significance of the following quotation

(5 points)

The Modern Prometheus

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. This is significant because the myth of Prometheus corresponds to the story of Frankenstein and Paradise Lost, which is the basis of Frankenstein. Prometheus rebels against Zeus by first trying to deceive Zeus with a fake offering of bones wrapped up as though they were more important, and then he directly rebelled against Zeus by giving mortals forbidden gifts, namely fire. Zeus punishes the entire world for Prometheus's sins, and he has Prometheus tied to the edge of a mountain and has his eagle tear oat his flesh and devour his liver, and then regrow the flesh so that the eagle can repeat the torture the next day. Zeus then releases Pandora, a woman, to introduce pain and suffering on the world for eternity. Dr. Frankenstein is called the Modern Prometheus because he creates a horrible creature who kills and models himself after Satan. The Prometheus myth is similar to the story of Satan, whom the creature desires to be like. Also, the view of Pandora as the source of human suffering is mirrored in the negative portrayal of women in Shelley's Frankenstein.


Part II -- Explain the significance of the following word/name

(5 points)


Sublime is significant because it is a recurring theme in most Romantic poetry. In the 18th century, beauty, order, symmetry/balance, and social acceptance were valued but the Romantics valued the uncertainty of nature, with its fierce, illogical forces. This was no longer the Age of Reason. People began to see that man did not dominate nature, as nature was far more powerful than man. Thus, most of the cultural outlets at the time portrayed the sublime: mountains, Northern wasteland, waterfalls, and the like. Man's fear of these forces made them awe-inspiring. A good example of the sublime is Percy Shelley's "Mont Blanc." He describes a mountain in the Alps, something poets in the 18th century would have considered a social faux pas. Romantic poets began to consider the power of nature and realized that every human lives every moment on the brink of death. They found this to be quite exciting, as they desired to live exciting lives and never to lose their passion and become living corpses. The portrayal of the sublime in Romantic poetry underscores this notion. They wrote of the somewhat frightening power of nature but described it as something beautiful, but without the passive appreciation that the beautiful evokes. The sublime has power, perhaps the kind of power the poets want their poetry to have.


Part III -- Poetry Analysis (40 points)

Provide me with a detailed reading of the poem that you will find on the verso of this page, paying special attention to such issues as the following:   the reasons the poet chose the verse form he did (sonnet, ode, ballad, etc.); the relation between the form of the poem and its content; the effect of such stylistic devices as alliteration, assonance, rhyme (regular, internal, slant, etc), meter variation, caesuras, enjambement, line breaks, etc.; and the relation of the poem to its literary historical context (to what extent is the poem exemplary of or divergent from Wordsworth's other poetry or Romantic ideology in general; does the poem link up to larger historical changes occurring in the Romantic period?).   Remember that one thing which distinguishes a strong essay is a well-defined, over-arching thesis.   In other words, avoid merely listing lines of the poem without any interconnecting argumentative thread.   A strong paper makes specific, complex arguments backed by in-depth and extensive interpretations of the poetry.    

William Wordsworth, "The world is too much with us; late and soon"


The world is too much with us; late and soon,                                    

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;                                     5

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;                                                 10

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

This poem was written from 1802-1804 and was published in 1807.

l. 4             boon -- A prayer, petition, entreaty, request.

l. 10             Pagan -- Someone who does not believe in the single Christian god; a heathen.   The term is often applied to someone who believes in the polytheistic religion of ancient Greece.  

l. 11             lea -- A tract of open ground, either meadow, pasture, or arable land.

ll. 13-14             Proteus...Triton -- sea-gods.   According to Homer's Odyssey , Proteus can take on any shape he wills (hence, the term "protean"); Triton, the lower part of whose body is that of a fish, is usually shown blowing a trumpet of conch shell.

ll. 14             wreathèd -- Formed by or as by wreathing, wrying, twisting, or twining; arranged or disposed in coils, curves, or twists; contorted, twisted.


This poem is a sonnet. It is constructed of an octave with the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA and then a sestet CDCDCD. Therefore, this is a Petrarchan sonnet. Unlike the Shkespearean or Spenserian sonnet, this type of sonnet does not have three quatrains. I believe Wordsworth chose this verse form because he is not directly invoking anything or anyone, except perhaps in line 9 when he says "Great God!" but I do not feel that he is invoking God but is, rather, showing his rejection of conventional Christian religion. Thus, this could not be an ode. Yet, his topic is a serious one, so a sonnet would be more appropriate than a ballad. Furthermore, a Petrarchan sonnet was likely chosen by Wordsworth because the division in rhyme scheme between lines 8 and 9 also marka transition in the content. The first 8 lines discuss the problem of the powerlessness and lack of place for humans, but the last 6 lines (CDCDCD) describe what would make Wordsworth "less forlorn." The structure of the poem is not as simple as problem/solution, but the transition in rhyme schem definitely indicates or marks a different tone.

Wordsworth also uses many stylistic devices to use form to reveal content. For example, lines 5 and 6 contain small alliterations that add extra emphasis to the lines "bares her bosom... howling at all hours." This use of alliteration emphasizes the power of nature that Wordsworth is describing. The sea is powerful and potentially destructive, yet the sea "bares her bosom" to the moon, an act that implies a transfer of power or a reflection of power, like the moon reflecting off of the sea. Also, the winds are "howling at all hours," an indication of the winds' enormous power and a likening of the winds to wolves, a feared creature.

Wordsworth also uses alliteration, caesuras, and enjambment to further emphasize the important transition between lines 8 and 9. "Great God" not only uses an alliteration of two strong consonants, but it is also sandwiched between two strong caesuras—a hyphen/dash and an exclamation point. Also, line 8 is an end-stopped line, which further brings attention to the transition. Line 8 also has two caesuras. These two lines have the most caesuras in that they are the only lines that have more than one and then they have the most caesuras sequentially. Toogether with the shift in rhyme,m these lines are certainly marked as the most important and as the transition or shift in tone and focus of the poem.

This poem is characteristic of Wordsworth because it discusses a dissatisfaction with the world and a desire for change. Wordsworth was a proselyte of the French Revolution in his youth, and he rebelled against religion and to some degree philosophy. In line 10, he states that he would rather be a pagan and have the world make him less "forlorn." The pome's tone reverberates Wordsworth's desire for change (a revolutionary ideology) and rejection of Christian (or conventional—for Europe) religion.

Even more striking is the degree to which the poem exemplifies Romantic ideology. The poem does not describe any external action; rather, it is an internal self-reflection or an internal monologue. It concentrates on human emotion, especially on melancholy, which is a very important Romantic notion, as in Byron's Manfred. The poem emphasizes the dominance of nature over man, especially in lines 3 and 7. Wordsworth says that "little... in Nature is ours" and humans [? hard to read] are "up-gathered now like sleeping flowers," thereby highlighting man's lack of control over their own lives or natural forces. As previously mentioned, Wordsworth and most Romantics rejected religion, and in the second half of the poem, Wordsworth turns to the gods of nature, Proteus and Triton, rather than the Christinan God. It is as though Wordsworth is blaming humans' wasted powers (line 2) on hypocritical religious creeds or other human organizations and would rather have nature control human destiny. Such an ideology corresponds to the Romantic emphasis on revolution and human corruption.