American Poetry I - Edgar Allan Poe - Eldorado

Eldorado (1849)
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849AD)

Gaily bedight,
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

But he grew old -
This knight so bold -
And o'er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow -
"Shadow," said he,
"Where can it be -
This land of Eldorado?"

"Over the mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied -
"If you seek for Eldorado!"

There are several meanings for this poem which allows for personal connection and interpretation. One theme of the poem is that a dream should be pursued no matter how long it takes to accomplish it. Another is that the actual search for something is the reward in itself; it's a journey not a destination. Yet a third is that one should not give up on a dream even if it is as lofty as searching for the city of gold. A more negative belief of the poem is that the knight has wasted his entire life searching for something, all the while missing what his life has already offered him. What the reader brings to the poem affects the meaning that is gleaned from its reading.
- An Overview of "Eldorado"

In Edgar Allan Poe's "Eldorado," the knight, as well as the reader, is encouraged to find joy in the journey, because just like the mythical city of gold which shares its name with the poem, dreams often prove to be elusive, like a shadow. The poem begins "Gaily bedight / A gallant knight" (1-2), and why is this knight so gaily dressed? And why is this knight singing a song? It is because he is on a quest. He has not found anything, has not achieved anything. It's the quest that brings him happiness, that causes him to dress gaily and sing songs. The knight fails to understand the cause of his happiness. He laments his failure, never having found Eldorado. He does not fail, however, to continue searching. The first thing he asks after "his strength / Failed him at length" (13-14) is "Where can it be / This land of Eldorado?" The shade doesn't take him there, of course; he simply tells him to "Ride, boldly ride," for that is Eldorado.
- Edgar Allan Poe Poems: An Analysis of Eldorado by Trent Lorcher