This question asked students to read carefully a poem by Marilyn Nelson Waniek entitled “The Century Quilt” and to write an essay analyzing how Waniek employs literary techniques to develop the complex meanings attributed by the speaker to the quilt. The prompt mentioned structure, imagery and tone as examples of the poet’s techniques.
With its phrasing, the question was intended to lead students to consider complexities in the quilt’s meanings for the speaker. Although a bedcovering may generally be regarded as warm and comforting, the prompt urged students to find other dimensions of meaning: the speaker’s identity as shaped and expressed in a family of multiple colors; the power of the past, of imagination and of dreams to create the future; and the links among generations. The prompt asked students to consider how the poet creates these multiple meanings through the use of literary elements, intending to test their abilities to articulate the connections between technique and meaning.
Characterized by sentence variety and command of the elements of writing, this insightful response begins with an economical introduction that transforms the prompt and lists techniques to be analyzed. After two sentences we know something about the nature of the poem (“a beautifully structured meditation”), something about its meaning (“the importance of the history behind a quilt”), and something about each technique under consideration. Integrating structural concerns with the poem’s “narrative and personal quality,” the first body paragraph offers a mature discussion of how the music of Waniek’s poem conveys meaning: the lack of rhyme and meter add up to “a narrative and personal quality”; “the break after ‘myself’ implies contemplation.” The third paragraph sustains the essay’s effectiveness by addressing the importance of color: “In questioning what she would dream of sleeping under it, she imagines the quilt would...