Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Are there any symbols in Sonnet 27?  If so, what are they?  

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Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is certainly symbolism in this sonnet. Remember that metaphors are a form of symbolism — this poem contains two key metaphors to help convey the poet's meaning.

The first is the idea of the journey. This is a fairly common symbol in literature, where life is imagined as if it were a physical path a person is treading. In this poem, the journey takes place in the speaker's mind when he is trying to sleep, and represents the "pilgrimage" of his thoughts towards the beloved person. The use of the word "pilgrimage" is particularly telling, as it suggests a sort of religious devotion. In allowing his thoughts to move towards the beloved, it is as if the speaker is committing a mental act of worship.

The other important symbol in this poem is that of the "jewel hung in ghastly night." First, this would seem to imply a star — something which lights up the night around it. The speaker, however, also says that the beloved's "shadow" is like this, something which glows brightly and stands out in the darkness, something lovely and distinct which the speaker strives to reach.

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While there is much figurative language in this sonnet, there does not appear to be any symbolism. Line 3 has the metaphor "a journey in my head" as wearily lying down to sleep, the poet is kept awake by his ponderings of his lover.  Extending this metaphor, the poet describes the thoughts of the lover as "a zealous pilgrimage" (l.6) in the "imaginary sight"(l.9) of his mind.  To his "sightless view"(l.10)--metaphor for his mind--the poet is "presented" the "shadow,"(l.10) of his lover, the mental image of the lover,  that is "like a jewel"(l.11)--simile-- that makes the night beautiful.  The darkness comes alive to the poet is his beautiful reverie of his lover, so much so that the night's "old face"(l.12)--personification--becomes new. 

Hope this helps you some.

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