Eldorado-Edgar Allan Poe-Review

Author: Haritha, Learner

 

This is a self determined review of a poem chosen by the learner

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!”

This poem caught my eye because of the title. “Eldorado” is a fictitious city rumoured to have an abundance of gold. The mysterious aspect that Eldorado brings to the poem is what invited me to try my hand at solving it. The poem is vague, but uses words to create lucid images. This combination of mystery and imagery makes the poem very interesting.

Observe the format of the verses. The first two lines of the verse end in rhyming words. For example “bedight” and “knight”, “old” and “bold”, “strength” and “length”. This does not apply for the last stanza. Similarly the third and fourth lines end in rhyming words: “long” and “song”, “found” and “ground”, “he” and “be”, “ride” and “replied”.

Another pattern in the poem is the repetition of the words “shadow” and the title itself, “Eldorado”. Each stanza has the word “shadow” at the end of the third line. This is followed by the word “Eldorado” at the end of the stanza. The repetition of these two words suggest that Eldorado itself could be made of shadows. It suggests that the knight is on a journey to find a place that does not exist.

This journey that the knight undertakes changes with time. In the first stanza, words such as “gaily” and “sunshine” indicate that the journey started off as a pleasurable quest and that the knight was in good spirits. The stanza indicates that he traveled a long way and that sometimes the travel was hazardous (the word shadow was used). However, the line “singing a song” suggests that despite the journey being tiresome his hope and excitement outweighed the struggle. In the second stanza this happy mood changes.

The second stanza begins with the line, “but he grew old”. Here, a more sombre mood is seen, where the fatigue of the journey finally weigh down on the knight. The use of the word “old” suggests that the quest wore him out so much that he felt old. He was no longer the young knight who decided to undertake the journey. Another interpretation of the word “old” could be that the knight dedicated his life in search of Eldorado and it took him his entire youth. The next line says, “this knight so bold” which shows a certain contrast with the previous line. It suggests that even though the knight was courageous and confident the never ending exhaustion got the best of him. In other words this quest has the capacity to tire the strongest of people.

The stanza continues to explain how the quest affected the knight. It says, “and o’er his heart a shadow fell…” which indicates that he began to lose hope and finding Eldorado seemed impossible. The second stanza emphasizes how, after a long search with no result, the knight’s perseverance began to falter. When looking at the mood’s progression from the first stanza into the second, it is noticed that the excitement and adventure was slowly replaced by weariness and despair. This may have been due to the time and effort that the knight put into his quest, that yielded no reward.

In the beginning, stanza three gives an impression that the knight realized he was searching for the impossible and was ready to give up. This is interpreted from the lines, “and as his strength failed him at length”. It is as if he was a sponge and the last ounce of determination was being squeezed out. After the impression of the knight’s failure, the plot turns around in the form of a pilgrim shadow. The knight, then as a last resort and attempt at finding Eldorado asks the shadow for directions. This hints that the land of gold might actually be real. The stanza ends in a question mark leaving the reader at a cliffhanger. In a sense the knight’s destiny rides on the answer of the shadow. These twists in the narrative make the poem that much more thought-provoking and unique.

The pilgrim shadow can be interpreted in different manners. The pilgrim shadow can be looked at as a figment of the knight’s imagination, since the word “shadow” suggests that the pilgrim is an incorporeal being. Another interpretation is that the “pilgrim shadow” is an apparition of a previous person who took on this quest. Based on the second interpretation, this encounter with the shadow suggests that the knight would have to do more than physically search in order to find Eldorado.

The last stanza answers the knight’s question in saying, “Over the Mountains of the Moon, down the Valley of Shadow”. At first the impact of these lines are that of hope and revived courage as the Shadow has given the knight directions to Eldorado. When looked at more closely the directions are very queer. As far as astronomy and geography goes, the moon does not have mountains, nor are valleys made of shadow. What must also be noticed is that the words “Mountains”, “Moon”, “Valley” and “Shadow” are all capitalized. The unrealistic directions and capitalized words indicate that it is a metaphor for something impossible and beyond our imagination. The lines connote that, to find the impossible, one must use unorthodox methods.

The poem then ends with the shadow saying, “ride boldly…”. This indicates that only with a combination of an open mind and perseverance will the knight be able to complete his quest. The entire poem can be applied to life in general, the knight representing ourselves. In order to find something extraordinary or reach a goal, one requires immense mental and physical effort. Aside from hard work, one has to open their mind to possibilities and think beyond what they have been told. To find the impossible one must replace that word with ‘possible’.