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!”

-Edgar Allan Poe

Analysis:

Eldorado is a poem written by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1849. The poem is about a ‘gallant knight’ in search of the El Dorado. El Dorado was originally called, ‘El Hombre Dorado’ meaning, ‘The Golden One’ or ‘El Rey Dorado’ meaning, ‘The Golden King’. The Spanish Empire used this term to describe their mythical tribal chief, who as an initiation rite, covered himself in gold and submerged in Lake Guatavita. The legend changed over time as it went from being a man, to a city, to a kingdom and then, an empire.

The earliest mention of the name, ‘El Dorado’ was in 1535-1536. German conquistador searched the Venezuelan lowlands, Colombian Plateaus, Orinoco Basin, and Llanos Orientales for El Dorado. Many explorers looked for the golden city for all the riches but failed.

In 1540, Gonzalo Pizarro and Francisco de Orellana made an expedition in search of gold and cinnamon. While Gonzalo quit, Orellana continued and made it to the Atlantic Ocean. Orellana was credited with the discovery of the Amazon River (so named because of the tribe of female warriors who killed Orellana’s men during their voyage.)

The poem is made out of four-six line stanzas, known as sestets. The word ‘shadow’ that Poe used in each stanza has a different meaning. First, it means a literal shadow, then it implies gloom and despair, and lastly, ‘The Valley of Shadow’ meaning ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’ suggesting that Eldorado doesn’t exist in the living world, or very difficult to find in the physical realm.

The gallant knight spends so much time in searching for ‘Eldorado’. In his old age, he finally meets a pilgrim shadow, who points the way to the ‘Valley of Shadow’. With reference to Psalm 23:4, ‘The Valley of the Shadow’ indicates that the only thing one will find in search of Eldorado is death.

Perhaps, Poe suggests that, if one goes looking for something in form of greed, like Eldorado’s gold, one will be disappointed. It’s important to be content with what you have.

‘Eldorado’ is one of Poe’s last poems.

Muisca_raft_Legend_of_El_Dorado_Offerings_of_gold
The zipa used to cover his body in gold dust, and from his raft, he offered treasures to the Guatavita goddess in the middle of the sacred lake. This old Muisca tradition became the origin of the legend of El Dorado. This Muisca raft figure is on display in the Gold Museum, Bogotá, Colombia.

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