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Goethe and Poetry

poet's desk

1. This picture shows the desk of Johann Wolfgang Goethe (say yoh-hahn vawlf-gahng ger-tuh), a famous German poet. He wrote a monumental poem called Faust (say foust). This poem is about a man who sells his soul to the devil to gain secret powers. This was already an old story when Goethe wrote the poem. Goethe used this basic idea to convey human nature: how people think, the desires that people have and consequences that can result.

2. People began creating poetry thousands of years ago. In ancient times, many people could not read or write. The rhythms and rhyme of poetry helped people to remember and pass on old stories. Even in Goethe's time (1749 - 1832), many people who were not born into families with money could not read and write. In the times when people did not read, however, those who were gifted with language often had excellent memories. Some people could remember poems with 100 lines or more.

3. Different cultures prefered different styles. Rhyme was popular because it helped people remember. With rhyme, the last word of each phrase has the same final sounds, as in "face" and "race" or "fly" and "sky." A good poet could write so that the rhyme did not seem forced. Good poets also knew different ways of using rhyme. There are rhyming couplets: this means that 2 lines rhyme. Also other patterns can be used: maybe the 1st and the 4th line will rhyme while the 2nd and 3rd line will be a rhyming couplet. Goethe used rhyme in Faust.

4. Some cultures liked alliteration instead of rhyme. This is when you repeat the consonant sound, as in "big brown bear basking in bright light." The repetition of the consonant sound also helped people to remember. Scandinavians (the people from Sweden and Norway) prefered alliteration in their old poems. The famous Old English poem from the 8th century, Beowulf, used a lot of alliteration.

5. Today, rhyme is much less popular. Many contemporary poets use both alliteration and assonance. Assonance is the use of rhyming vowel sounds. For instance, in "the crow flies by the high branches of the pine tree," the words "flies," "high" and "pine" all use the Long I sound, but they do not rhyme. Contemporary poets vary a lot. Some writers imitate contemporary speech. They try to show the natural rhythms of language by writing with sudden stops, like beats. Other writers use innovative variations of older styles. Even though today's poets usually do not use rhyme, they still endeavor to write poems that are lasting and memorable.


Answer the questions:

1. What is the main idea of this passage?

A. Poetry is an ancient art and it changes with the times.
B. Poetry is an ancient art and it hasn't changed significantly.
C. When people could not read and write, they memorized poems.
D. Goethe was a famous German poet.

2. Why does the author write about Goethe?

A. Goethe is the main idea of the passage.
B. Goethe wrote Faust, a famous poem.
C. Goethe wrote about human nature.
D. Goethe is an example of a poet.

3. Which statement is an inference, not a fact?

A. Today, rhyme is less popular.
B. Today, many poets use assonance instead of rhyme in their poems.
C. Since most people can read and write today, rhyme is less popular.
D. Alliteration means using the same consonant repeatedly.

4. What is the difference between assonance and alliteration?

A. Assonance is about consonants and alliteration is about vowels.
B. Assonance is about vowels and alliteration is about consonants.
C. Assonance and alliteration are about the same.
D. Assonance is used in poetry and alliteration is not.

5. What is the difference between rhyme and rhythm?

A. Rhyme is about sound and rhythm is about the beat.
B. Rhyme is about the beat and rhythm is about sound.
C. Rhyme is used in poetry and rhythm is not.
D. Rhyme and rhythm are not different.

6. Match the words with their definitions:

monumental                  a. relate, express
convey                           b. new, hasn't been done before
rhythm                           c.grand
innovative                      d. staying/existing for a long time
lasting                            e. the pattern of a beat

(answers below)

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answers: 1.  a, 2. d, 3. c, 4. b , 5. a, 6. monumental: c, convey: a, rhythm: e, innovative: b, lasting: d
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