When using these tools in analyzing poetry, pay attention to their specific effects in the poem, how they contribute to the poem's meaning. In many cases the poet will use diction and syntax in unexpected or deviant ways. This is popularly called poetic license, but poets don't bend the rules of language just because they can; in a good poem, there is always a reason for unusual uses of language. Look for the hidden relation or significance that compensates for the break in the reader's expectations.
A. Collocation: tendency of words in a language to occur in close proximity to each other (based on logical and meaningful relationships between them, patterns of association and usage, etc). Collocation can be ascertained by experience, reading, and study of dictionaries that give multiple examples in the form of quotations, such as the Oxford English Dictionary. As illustrated below, the same word can have very different collocations. Poets can draw on collocations to create special effects and nuances of meaning.
B. Denotation: the neutral concept signified by the word; the literal dictionary definition. This can vary according to time period and cultural context.
C. Connotation: the associations, emotions, and implied attitudes carried by the word; the feelings it evokes. This will also vary according to time period, language, and cultural context. For example, notice in English the different connotations of the words plump, overweight, fat, and obese. See ambiguity for a discussion of how an analysis of denotation and connotation can contribute to poetic effect.
D. Paradigmatic Figures: an individual, unexpected word use (generally involves only one deviant or unexpected item). Where the writer faces a choice between equivalent items, he/she will choose one that is not equivalent.
E. Syntagmatic Figures: unusual or unexpected change in the sequential arrangement of words (generally involves more than one deviant item).
In general, Paradigmatic Figures are perceived by readers as more unusual and deviant than Syntagmatic Figures, and poets who use many Paradigmatic Figures (such as Dylan Thomas or e.e. cummings) are often thought of as difficult. The more deviant the stylistic feature, the stronger the hidden significance needs to be in order to render the effort to decipher it worthwhile for the reader.Barbara F. McManus