What is connotation, and how do you find it in a poem?

Are you being inquisitive here, or are you being just plain nosy? If you find out the answer, will your friends think you're smart, or will they look at you as brainy?

Before you decide that I'm being impolite (if not rude), consider this: You've now been introduced to several sets of words that illustrate denotation and connotation.

Denotation is the literal meaning of a word, a sort of "what you read is what you get" translation that matches up with a dictionary definition. Connotation is far more imaginative and personal, because words start to bring to mind associations and emotional responses.

For example, being inquisitive and being nosy both add up to seeking out information. Inquisitive, however, suggests curiosity and eagerness for knowledge. Nosy, on the other hand, paints a different picture. Everyone's heard of nosy neighbors, those snoopy people who pry into the business of others.

Think of the similarities — and the differences — between smart and brainy. And, would you rather be portrayed as impolite or rude (probably, neither, but you get the point)?

Poets pick words that will draw on our emotions and spur a reaction. Take a look at these lines:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

In his poem "Fog," Carl Sandburg invites us to imagine the movements of a cat . . . slinky, stalking, hush-hush in its approach. Of course, the poet didn't expect his audiences to picture a weather front with paws, a giant housecat hovering over the city like Garfield at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Carl Sandburg wanted to move our senses and feelings into familiar territory — to give us his own view of how a misty overhang can sneak in unannounced.