Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe: Summary, Theme & Analysis

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Edgar Allan Poe wrote in the 1800's. 'Eldorado', written in 1849, shows the despair that is so common in Poe's work. This lesson offers a stanza by stanza summary and analysis of 'Eldorado'.

Poe in Perspective

Edgar Allan Poe is arguably one of the most famous poets from the 1800's. His work includes famous poems such as ''The Raven'' and ''The Tell-Tale Heart''. An obvious connection between most of Poe's work is its dark themes of murder, mystery, and despair.

One of Poe's last works was ''Eldorado,'' which was written in his last year of life. Evidence from letters written to friends points to the idea that Poe was depressed or at least in a negative mental state during this time of his life. Keeping the circumstances and Poe's personal life experiences in mind as you read and analyse ''Eldorado'' is important.

Eldorado

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!'

Summary

Eldorado is a poem about one knight's search for a place called Eldorado.

Stanza 1

In the first stanza we see a knight, fresh and ready to go, starting a journey, or maybe we could even think of it as a quest. He is full of hope and in good spirits. This is evident by the line 'singing a song'.

Stanza 2

The knight has been searching for a long time, many years at least. We know this because the stanza starts by telling us our knight is now old. He has also lost most of the hope he had at the start. This information comes from the phrase 'And o'er his heart a shadow'. He is no longer in good spirits as he continues his quest to find Eldorado.

Stanza 3

Now things have become serious. 'His strength failed him at length' implies that he has died or is very near death, never having found his goal. A 'shadow' (possibly Death himself) appears to him and he asks where to find Eldorado.

Stanza 4

In the last stanza the shadow explains that Eldorado is not actually attainable on Earth or to mortals. It is 'over the mountains of the moon' and 'down the valley of the shadow'. The final lines of the poem show the shadow encouraging the knight to go boldly into the shadow to find Eldorado.

Theme and Analysis

The first thing to note in this poem is that Eldorado is a mythical land of gold. You might think of it as a land-based Atlantis. A city made entirely of gold, searched for tirelessly, but never found. It is a symbol of hope, intrigue, and mystery. It is a magnificent treasure promising riches and notoriety to the person that finds it, but constantly out of reach.

Secondly, it is important to remember that Edgar Allan Poe was in his last year of life when he wrote this poem. He was most likely depressed, and assuredly sad (as evidenced by letters he wrote to his friend). Setting the scene for this poem in light of Poe's mental state at the time helps us to understand the meaning behind the words.

If we analyse this work through the perspective of the author, we might see it as a commentary on his own life.

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