Poe Study Guides
Notes and Annotation by Michael
of Work and Date of Publication
"Eldorado" is a four-stanza
poem published for the first time on April 21, 1849, in Flag of Our
Life is a journey on which
people search for wealth, fame, joy, courage, approval, adventure, acceptance,
God, a solution to a complex problem, and so on. However, no one ever reaches
his goal. If an entrepreneur
makes $1 million or $10 million, he then wants to make $100 million. If
a scientist reconciles quantum mechanics with Einsteinian relativity, he
then wants to prove the superstring theory. If a mystic finds a reflection
of God in a sunset or the smile of a leper, he then wants to search creation
further for another revelation. After Alexander the Great conquered half
the world on his march from Greece to India, legend says he sat down and
cried, for he had no more worlds to conquer. He wanted the adventure to
continue. Man is meant to seek. If he finds, he dies. So, like the knight
in the poem, he must “ride, boldly ride."
Is the Knight?
The knight represents everyone
who travels the journey of life.
Kingdom of Gold
Eldorado (or El Dorado) is
Spanish for “the gilded one." Spanish explorers coined the term in the
early 1500's to refer to a legendary South American tribal chief in northern
South America. According to tales the Spaniards heard, this ruler presided
over a kingdom rich in gold and precious gems. It was said that he covered
his body with gold dust during festivals, then later washed it off in a
lake. The “golden city" in which he was believed to reside was called
Omagua (or Omoa). As time passed, the kingdom itself came to be called
Eldorado, and explorers from Spain, Portugal, Germany, and England searched
northern reaches of the continent to find the kingdom and its fabulous
treasures. None of the expeditions succeeded. Subsequently, Eldorado
was used to refer to any place or any enterprise promising to yield wealth
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The atmosphere of "Eldorado"
is upbeat and cheerful in Stanza 1 as the knight, singing a song, continues
his quest for Eldorado. But the poem turns somber and melancholy in the
succeeding stanzas. No longer is there sunshine, only shadow. And, as he
grows old, the knight despairs of every finding Eldorado. Then the mysterious
pilgrim shadow tells him to ride on to the Valley of the Shadow, which
appears to be the biblical "valley of the shadow of death." (See Notes
and Comments accompanying the poem, below.) The surreal, dreamlike atmosphere
of the final stanza may represent the knight's transition from life to
Edgar Allan Poe was born
on January 19, 1809, in Boston. After being orphaned at age two, he was
taken into the home of a childless couple–John Allan, a successful businessman
in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poe’s godfather.
At age six, Poe went to England with the Allans and was enrolled in schools
there. After he returned with the Allans to the U.S. in 1820, he studied
at private schools, then attended the University of Virginia and the U.S.
Military Academy, but did not complete studies at either school. After
beginning his literary career as a poet and prose writer, he married his
young cousin, Virginia Clemm. He worked for several magazines and joined
the staff of the New York Mirror newspaper in 1844. All the while,
he was battling a drinking problem. After the Mirror published his
poem “The Raven" in January 1845, Poe achieved national and international
fame. Besides pioneering the development of the short story, Poe invented
the format for the detective story as we know it today. He also was an
outstanding literary critic. Despite the acclaim he received, he was never
really happy because of his drinking and because of the deaths of several
people close to him, including his wife in 1847. He frequently had trouble
paying his debts. It is believed that heavy drinking was a contributing
cause of his death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849.
By Edgar Allan Poe
Published in April of 1849
and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Notes, Stanza 1
But he grew old ––
This knight so bold ––
And o'er his heart a shadow
as he found fell,
Notes, Stanza 2
Metaphor for discouragement, dejection, or melancholy. Note that the knight
rides in sunshine and in shadow in Stanza 1. In Stanza 2, as he grows old,
the shadow overtakes him. In Stanza 3, the shadow is personified as the
motivation that drives him on or as death beckoning him. In Stanza 4, the
Shadow becomes the place the knight seeks. Only in death will the knight
reach his goal and end his quest.
Perhaps a gold nugget, gem, or another sign of Eldorado
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim
"Shadow" said he,
"Where can it be ––
This land of Eldorado?"
Notes, Stanza 3
shadow: Shadow of a traveler. Thus, the pilgrim shadow may be
the knight's own inner self (ambition, motivation) in the form of an apparition
driving him on in spite of his weariness. One may also interpret it as
death overtaking the knight. .
"Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley
of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
Notes, Stanza 4
. . . Shadow: These words echo the phrase valley of the shadow
of death in Verse 1, Chapter 23, of the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament
of the Bible.
Reference to the pilgrim shadow. Shade is another word for apparition
or ghost. But unlike ghost, wraith, phantom, spirit,
or any other word for apparition, shade maintains the sh
sound of shadow, thus keeping up the rhythm and musicality of the