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Question 15 of 23

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One summer evening (led by her)1 I found

A little boat tied to a willow tree

Within a rocky cave, its usual home.

Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in

Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth

And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice

Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;

Leaving behind her still, on either side,

Small circles glittering idly in the moon,

Until they melted all into one track

Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,

Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point

With an unswerving line, I fixed my view

Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,

The horizon’s utmost boundary; for above

Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.

She was an elfin pinnance;2 lustily

I dipped my oars into the silent lake,

And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat

Went heaving through the water like a swan;

When, from behind that craggy steep till then

The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,

As if with voluntary power instinct

Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,

And growing still in stature the grim shape

Towered up between me and the stars, and still,

For so it seemed, with purpose of its own

And measured motion like a living thing,

Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,

And through the silent water stole my way

Back to the covert of the willow tree;

There in her mooring-place I left my bark, —

And through the meadows homeward went, in grave

And serious mood; but after I had seen

That spectacle, for many days, my brain

Worked with a dim and undetermined sense

Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts

There hung a darkness, call it solitude

Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes

Remained, no pleasant images of trees,

Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;

But huge and mighty forms, that do not live

Like living men, moved slowly through the mind

By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.



1. Nature.

2. A boat.


Select an Answer

The excerpt is best described as

an enthusiastic celebration of youthful optimism

Correct Answer: 

an ironic self-portrait colored by satiric observations

Correct Answer: 

an imaginative evocation without didactic intention

Correct Answer: 

a symbolic representation of intellectual creativity

Correct Answer: 

a narrative episode with philosophical implications

Correct Answer: 

Choice (E) is correct. The excerpt is a narrative episode with philosophical implications, or a story that deals with issues of nature, reality, and perception. The narrative elements of the poem are evident throughout: the speaker tells the story of events that began when he or she “found/A little boat” and decided to take it out on the water. Feeling exhilarated, the speaker suddenly sees “a huge peak, black and huge,” and guiltily turns “Back to the covert of the willow tree,” after which “for many days . . . There hung a darkness, call it solitude/Or blank desertion.” The philosophical elements of the poem are most evident in the discussion of the speaker’s feelings after the event; the speaker grapples with “a dim and undetermined sense/Of unknown modes of being.” Is the speaker awed by the peak because he or she is already feeling guilty about having stolen the boat? Or is there some external force in nature that governs our internal feelings and actions? The questions the poem raises have philosophical implications.

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