Here is the poem "Madman's Song" by Elinor Wylie (from The Prose and Poetry of Elinor Wylie , by William Rose Benét):

Better to see your cheek grown hollow,
Better to see your temple worn,
Than to forget to follow, follow,
After the sound of a silver horn.

Better to bind your brow with willow
And follow, follow until you die,
Than to sleep with your head on a golden pillow,
Nor lift it up when the hunt goes by.

Better to see your cheek grow sallow
And your hair grown gray, so soon, so soon,
Than to forget to hallo, hallo,
After the milk-white hounds of the moon.

I have a question about this poem in a book Cracking the SAT Literature Subject Test (by the way, if you've seen some of my previous SAT questions, these are from another book which is better in quality and which I use until I'm going to use until I finish with it):

What is the effect of using “silver” to describe the “horn” (line 4)?

(A) To imply that the horn is not as valuable as a golden horn
(B) To foreshadow any item that may be used in the “hunt” (line 8)
(C) To be alliterative with the word “sound”
(D) To indicate that the image would be bright
(E) To symbolize the beauty of wealth

I think A, D, and E can be eliminated but am not sure about the remaining answers.
In C, the words "sound" and "silver," actually, are alliterated although I wouldn't think that could be a reason for using the word "silver" in general.
As for B, I don't completely understand this answer. I couldn't find an analysis of the poem online although I know it is dedicated to someone who lost their touch with what's important in life. However, I am not 100% sure if the words "horn" and "hunt" are related in the context of the poem.
And here is the explanation:

C “Silver” and “sound” are alliterative (C). There is no comparison between silver and gold (A). “Silver” does not foreshadow the hunt (B). Silver is not necessarily bright (D). The horn is not about wealth, nor are we told it’s beautiful (E).

Should it be obvious in the context of the poem that the horn and the hunt aren't related here? Is it just my lack of understanding? And do the "silver horn" and "hunt" symbolize something else?
Also, can alliteration here be the main reason for using a particular word?

  • 2
    Every source but your says it is by Elinor Wylie, so unless authorship is disputed it may mean your source is dodgy! My thought on the poem is that it makes me think of the Wild Hunt and folk tales about time being different in the fairy realm, often people who join a fairy dance or ride find that more time passed than they knew, usually everyone else has aged when they return, but sometimes it's the person who left. So an allegory for having fun and damn the consequences
    – Spagirl
    Oct 29, 2018 at 13:18
  • NB That site is also well off beam in its question about the word 'hallo', as they don't seem to be aware that it is a cry used by hunters rather than the sound their dogs might make.
    – Spagirl
    Oct 29, 2018 at 14:34
  • 2
    William Rose Benét edited the collection The Prose and Poetry of Elinor Wylie (1974) so it's possible to see how the mistake was made, but it's pretty egregious nonetheless. Oct 29, 2018 at 15:41
  • 1
    About their explanation; The horn clearly foreshadows the hunt. But there's nothing about the fact that it's silver that does so. I'd say it's silver to contrast with the golden pillow; the moon is silver, and the sun is gold. The wild hunt takes place at night, as does the revelry it is a metaphor for, if you accept @Spagirl's interpretation.
    – Peter Shor
    Nov 5, 2018 at 12:33

2 Answers 2


I would say that all of the SAT's choices of answers for this question are wrong. The poem clearly contrasts the silver horn with the golden pillow. The second stanza (with my interpolation) reads:

Better to bind your brow with willow
And follow, follow [the silver horn] until you die,
Than to sleep with your head on a golden pillow,
Nor lift it up when the hunt goes by.

This contrast of the silver horn and the golden pillow is reminiscent of the contrast of night and day, of moon and sun, and of action and indolence. This relates to a major message of the poem: seize the day (or rather, night); choose action rather than sleep, even if it impairs your health in the end. This is a much more substantial reason for choosing silver horn than merely to alliterate with sound.

Having said that, (C) is clearly the best answer:

  • While (A) contrasts silver and gold, it only compares them on the axis of cost, which is orthogonal to the poem's theme;
  • For (B), while the silver horn foreshadows the hunt, saying that it foreshadows "any item that may be used in the 'hunt'" doesn't really make any sense. The only other item mentioned that might be used in the hunt is the willow binding on the brow, and it's very doubtful that the silver horn foreshadows that.
  • For (D), it's not clear to me that the brightness of the silver horn or of the "milk-white hounds of the moon" has any significance in the poem.
  • And option (E), "to symbolize the beauty of wealth," is just wrong — wealth is symbolized by the golden pillow, which is placed in contrast with the silver horn.

This leaves option (C) as the only viable option left, as poor as it is.


In the first stanza, there is no mention of a hunt, but a hunt is arguably the most likely situation in which one would follow the sound of a horn, rather than just figuring out its potential meaning (as, e.g., in signals during a battle). For this reason, the foreshadowing of the hunt mentioned in the second stanza cannot be excluded. Even so, it is mainly the end of the second stanza that clarifies the meaning of the horn retrospectively.

However, the question is not about the effect of the word "horn"; it is about the effect of the word "silver", which does not at all foreshadow a hunt, or 'any item that may be used in the “hunt”' (the second stanza does not mention items "that may be used in a hunt", anyway). For this reason, I would exclude option B.

The alliteration in "the sound of a silver horn" (option C) cannot be denied, especially because the alliterating syllables are also stressed.

With regard to option A, one can argue that there is no implication that horns might be made from gold; the silver from the first stanza contrasts with the gold from the second stanza by means of the contrast between following a horn on the one hand and sleeping on a pillow on the other. The poem's narrator rejects the latter, in spite of the higher value of gold.

With regard to option D, one can argue that the horn is perceived aurally ("the sound of"), not visually, so brightness does not seem relevant.

With regard to option E, one can argue that the golden pillow represents wealth better than the horn, because it represents the comfort that wealth can provide, whereas the horn spurns to action, even so much so that the poem's addressee may end up with hollow cheeks and worn temples.

This leaves C as the best option.

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