". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

National Poetry Month, Day 13

One of the fundamental tools of any poet, writer or speaker (that pretty much includes all of us!) is connotation. Connotation refers to the emotional content or "baggage" carried by a word, whereas denotation refers to a word's objective or "dictionary" meaning. Some words are naturally more connotative than others, and some are more denotative. For example, the word "house" is more denotative, signifying a dwelling place, whereas the word "home" is more connotative, suggesting not just a dwelling place but one that is safe and welcoming. So if you wish to express the idea of "house" in a way that emphasizes its positive associations, you might use the word "home" instead. On the other hand, if you want to use a word that does not have positive associations, you might stick with the more objective "house," or you might pick a word with a negative connotation, such as "shack."

Of course, individuals may have different associations for words based on their own experiences. Someone who grew up in a home that was marked by abuse may have a different reaction to the word. But we can make generalizations about connotations of words that grow out of the experience of the majority of people in a particular group or culture.

Closely related to connotation and denotation is tone. Tone is the attitude of the writer or speaker towards his subject. More denotative word choice contributes to a more objective (emotionless) tone. More connotative word choice contributes to a more subjective (emotional) tone.

Below are two poems about snow. What is the tone of each? What words, through their connotations, help create that tone?

"Snow Flakes" - Emily Dickinson

I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town,
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down.
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig,
And ten of my once stately toes

Are marshalled for a jig! 

"October Snow" - Lew Sarett

Swiftly the blizzard stretched a frozen arm
From out the hollow night- 
Stripping the world of all her scarlet pomp,
And muffling her in white.

Dead white the hills; dead white the soundless plain;
Dead white the blizzard's breath- 
Heavy with hoar that touched each woodland thing
With a white and silent death.

In inky stupor, along the drifted snow,
The sluggish river rolled- 
A numb black snake caught lingering in the sun

By autumn's sudden cold.

"Snow Storm" - Igor Medvedev

No comments: