One of the last poems Poe ever wrote, published the year he died, 1849, is a lyrical rumination on humanity’s futile search for happiness. The knight in the poem fails to find happiness; and in his own life, Poe failed too.


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!”

So lovely how ‘shadow’ occurs in every sestet (a stanza with six lines), and how its meaning changes. The simplicity of this poem, its elegance and beauty bely its grim message.  

This poem has enjoyed enduring popularity: Classical composers have put it to music as well as pop (including one of my favorite pop artists of the 60’s, Donovan). Movies have found its lyrics irresistible, and you can find snippets of this verse being quoted by the likes of James Caan and Kiefer Sutherland.  

Read it aloud, it’s October, the perfect month for Poe; he died this month 166 years ago.

The image is from the 1966 film El Dorado, where John Wayne shoots people, and James Caan quotes Edgar A. Poe.

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