A Poem by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
A Study Guide
Notes and Annotation by Michael J. Cummings..© 2006
Type 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 Union.
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.
The knight represents everyone who travels the journey of life.
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 or opportunity.
By the Author of This Web Site
Plot Summaries of All the Plays and Narrative Poems | Themes | Imagery | Historical Background | Glossaries
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 death.
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 coupleJohn Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poes 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
Notes, Stanza 1
But he grew old
This knight so bold
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found fell, found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
Notes, Stanza 2
shadow: 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.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow
"Shadow" said he,
"Where can it be
This land of Eldorado?"
Notes, Stanza 3
pilgrim 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,"
The shade replied,
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
Notes, Stanza 4
Valley . . . 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.
Share this page:
More To Explore
You May Like