Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Eldorado" Published 1849


by Edgar Allan Poe

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!"

"Eldorado" is a ballad poem by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in April 1849.


The poem describes the journey of a "gallant knight" in search of the legendary El Dorado. The knight spends much of his life on this quest. In his old age, he finally meets a "pilgrim shadow" who points the way through "the Valley of Shadow." It was first published in the April 21, 1849, issue of the Boston-based The Flag of Our Union.[1]


The poem is made up of four six-line stanzas. Poe uses the term shadow in the middle of each stanza. The meaning of the word, however, changes with each use. First, it is a literal shadow, where the sun is blocked out. In the second, it implies gloom or despair. The third use is a ghost. The final use, "the Valley of Shadow," references the "Valley of the Shadow of Death," possibly suggesting that Eldorado (or riches in general) does not exist in the living world. Eldorado can also interpreted not as the worldly, yellowish metal, but as treasures that actually have the possibility of existence in the abode of spirits. These "spiritual" treasures are that of the mind: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. In this case, Edgar Poe doubted the worthiness of humanity to possess such "mental wealth" and admitted to the inescapable worldliness of mankind.

The time of the poem's publication, 1849, was during the California Gold Rush and was Poe's reaction to that event.[2]

"Eldorado" was one of Poe's last poems. As Poe scholar Scott Peeples wrote, the poem is "a fitting close to a discussion of Poe's career."[3] Like the narrator of the poem, Poe was on a quest for success or happiness and, despite spending his life searching for it, he eventually loses his strength and faces death.[3]


1966: An abridged form of the poem, sung in verse appears in the John Wayne-Howard Hawks Western film of the same name, El Dorado. The poem was sung at the beginning of the film by George Alexander, accompanied by The Mellomen, with the lyrics adapted by John Gabriel and set to music by Nelson Riddle. It is sung and spoken in the movie by a young James Caan.

1993: "Eldorado," along with "Hymn" and "Evening Star", was adapted by choral composer Jonathan Adams as Three Songs from Edgar Allan Poe for SATB chorus and piano.

1996: The poem was used for the lyrics of a Donovan's song on his album Sutras.

2000: "Eldorado" was adapted as song by the Darkwave band Sopor Aeternus on the album Songs from the inverted Womb.

2008: Craig Owens released a demo version of a song titled "El Dorado" on his Myspace page. The song uses Poe's poem as lyrics.

2009: The Jim O'Ferrell Band, of Richmond, Virginia (where Poe was raised), released a song based on the poem (retitled "El Dorado") on their album Back to the World.


Silverman, Kenneth (1991). Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance (Paperback ed. ed.). New York: Harper Perennial. ISBN 0060923318.

Sova, Dawn B. (2001). Edgar Allan Poe, A to Z (Paperback ed. ed.). New York: Checkmark Books. ISBN 081604161X.

1.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, Paperback ed., Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. ISBN 0801857309. p. 605.
2.^ Campbell, Killis. "The Origins of Poe," The Mind of Poe and Other Studies. New York: Russell and Russell, Inc., 1962: 159.
3.^ Peeples, Scott. Edgar Allan Poe Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1998: 172. ISBN 0-8057-4572-6

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