As long as literary usage is concerned, the term “denotation” means primary significance or reference of a word; whereas “connotation” of a word means a range of secondary or associated significations that the word implies. For instance; “home” denotes the house in which one lives whereas it connotes intimacy and privacy.
In broader sense, the connotation of a word consists of a range of meanings or significations and which one the word really connotes that depends on the context in which the word is used. As far as poetry is concerned, the words share contexts with both denotative as well as connotative meanings. And it’s up to the reader how to evaluate the words. In this respect, George Herbert’s poem “Virtue” needs to be taken into consideration:
Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and the sky…
The word “bridal” has both connotative as well as denotative meanings. The denotation of the word means that a union between human beings. The word stands for “ground” and functions as a metaphor to facilitate union of the earth and the sky. On the other hand, the connotation of the word “bridal” is sacred or ceremonial. Moreover, the meaning of the word is similar to “marriage”.
The second example I wish to offer is a portion from John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” where the connotative meaning of the word gets changes according to the way it is spelled:
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn,
You will notice that the use of “faery” instead of “fairy” evokes the connotation of antiquity and wonderful world of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene”.
These are some of the examples to see how connotation and denotation overlaps! You can only distinguish the meanings according to the content in which words are used. As far as the language of literature is concerned, you’ll see the presence of both and it is up to the reader to appreciate the work of art considering the proper connotative or denotative meanings.
In short, denotation refers to the literal meaning of a word, or the dictionary definition. Connotation, on the other hand, refers to the associations that are attached to a particular word or the emotional suggestions associated with that word. The connotative meanings of a particular word exist in conjunction with the denotative meanings. So, both share distinct features as long as meanings of a word is concerned.