Connotations in Poetry
In previous posts it has been explained that poetry is a literary genre that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm. Poetry communicates experience or a specific emotional response through condensed expressions. Therefore, it says more and says it more intensely than does ordinary language. To achieve this, poetry maximizes the use of both denotative and connotative meanings.
Particularly in poetry, connotation is very important because it is one of the means by which meaning is concentrated or enriched. That is why connotation is often called the lifeblood of poetry. By means of connotations, poets are able to say more in fewer words. Connotations also make it possible for poets to ‘paint pictures’ or create a strong image or feeling. On the other hand, the use of connotations will make the readers become naturally more involved with the words of the poem because their mind is caused to do a little extra ‘work’ in finding the meaning; and this deepens the effect the poem creates.
To see how connotations play a great role in poetry, read the following poem, try to figure out the connotation of words in blue, and study the explanation below it.
There is No Frigate Like a Book
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any courses like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul.
(Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886)
In There is No Frigate Like a Book Emily Dickinson is considering the power of a book of poetry to transmit us from our immediate surroundings into a world of the imagination. To do it, she compares poetry to various means of transportation: a boat, a team of horses, and a wheeled land vehicle. But she is very careful to choose kinds of transportation and names for them that have romantic connotations. Frigate suggests exploration and adventure; coursers, beauty, spirit, and speed; chariot, speed and the ability to go through the air as well as on land. How much of the meaning of the poem comes from this selection of vehicles and words is apparent if we try to substitute for them, say, steamship, horses, and streetcar.