by Edgar Allan Poe
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!"
An Overview of “Eldorado”
Although this poem refers to the Spanish legend of the city of Eldorado, it is universal in its theme. In this poem, a knight spends all his life searching for the often sought after city of Eldorado. He spends so much of his life looking for it that he becomes an old man still riding and searching for the city. In the end he meets a shade or ghostly figure who directs him to ride towards death, the Valley of Shadow, to complete his search. This implies that the knight dies still searching for Eldorado.
There are several meanings for this poem which allows for personal connection and interpretation. One theme of the poem is that a dream should be pursued no matter how long it takes to accomplish it. Another is that the actual search for something is the reward in itself; it’s a journey not a destination. Yet a third is that one should not give up on a dream even if it is as lofty as searching for the city of gold. A more negative belief of the poem is that the knight has wasted his entire life searching for something, all the while missing what his life has already offered him. What the reader brings to the poem affects the meaning that is gleaned from its reading.
An explanation of the quest for Eldorado may be necessary before reading this poem. Some facts to use in the explanation are:
· Rituals to crown the new king were said to be held here as they covered the new king with golden dust and threw armfuls of gold into the lake.
· Everything was to be made of gold, even the cooking utensils.
· Explorers believed that the city was located somewhere in the forests of the Amazon. These men never returned.
· Sir Walter Raleigh died as a result of his quest for Eldorado. After his second expedition failed in 1618, the queen had him executed.
Before reading the poem, students should complete some of the following activities so that they have a personal basis to build upon as they read. They should also, as with all poetry, become familiar with the vocabulary used in the poem. Below are discussion topics, a written activity, and vocabulary to help with this. Discussion topics may be written as well, depending upon the students. Choose the activity that best relate to your students.
Discussion topic 1
1. Ask students, “What are four things do you most want from life?” Give them time to think about these wants. Allow them to list everything that comes to mind first. Then, eliminate items until the list is only the four most important things.
2. Discuss the things on the list. Why are they wanted? What will they provide in life? Why were other choices eliminated?
3. Place these things in order of importance from most important to least.
4. Have students explain what steps they must take to gain each of their wants.
Discussion topic 2
1. Discuss with students things they have tried to accomplish but failed. How did they feel after their failure?
2. What could they have done to have succeeded in these tasks? Were some of the goals too lofty to be achieved? For example, if a goal was to become the starting quarterback of the team but the child never played on an organized football team, the goal should be lessened into making the team. Then, the next step to achieving the goal would be to make the starting lineup.
Define each word and use it in a sentence. Try to think of synonyms that can be used for the words as well.
1. Create a K-W-L chart for the quest for Eldorado. Fold a piece of paper into three columns. Label one column “What I Know,” one column “What I Want to Know,” and the last column “What I Learned.”
2. Have students list facts they know about Eldorado in the first column.
3. Have students write questions they have about Eldorado in the second column.
4. Assist students in finding answers to their questions. Research encyclopedias, the internet, or other resources. Place these answers in the third column.
During Reading Activities
While reading the poem it is important that students stop to think about what it is that they are reading. First, read the poem in its entirety. It is important that poetry is read out loud rather than silently. Then, at the second and third readings, choose from the activities below to further engage students and to help build their understanding of the poem.
1. Read the poem once, and then reread the poem. As the students reread, have them make a list of how they relate to the poem.
2. On one paper list how they relate to the knight personally.
3. On a second paper list how their world and community can relate to the knight’s world and his goals.
4. On a third paper list how the students can relate this poem to other pieces of literature that they have read.
1. Identify the imagery in the poem. Where is each sense seen? List words or phrases that relate to the senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
Label the poetic form of the poem. To do this:
1. Label the rhyme scheme of the poem. Look at the ending sound of each line. The first line is labeled A. Any line thereafter that ends in the same sound also gets an A. If the line sounds differently it receives a B and so on. Example: “bedight”= A; “knight” = A; “shadow” = B; “long” = C; “song” = C; “Eldorado” = B The pattern for the first stanza is AABCCB
2. Do all the stanzas follow the same pattern?
3. How many lines are in each stanza?
4. How many syllables are in each stanza?
5. Are all the stanzas the same form in rhyme and pattern?
After reading the poem, choose from the following activities to generate higher level thinking in your students. Some of the activities are written while others are discussion starters. Research can be included at this point as well. Select any of the activities that interest your students and fit their ability levels.
1. What might the knight have sacrificed by searching for Eldorado his entire life?
2. Was it worth it?
1. What other Eldorados have people searched for?
2. What do you think people search for today?
1. Poetry is often written in sentences but arranged in poetic lines. Reread the poem as sentences rather than lines of poetry.
2. Now, rephrase each stanza in a one summary sentence.
1. Research Poe’s life.
2. Relate Poe’s life to this knight’s search.
3. What was Poe’s Eldorado?
4. What do they have in common? Create a chart.
5. Use the A&E Biography: Poe, available on video, as a resource.
1. What is the tone/mood of the poem? Describe it with words such as: lighthearted, depressing, inspiring, humorous, etc.
2. If the poem were to be painted using only one color, what would it be? Explain why you chosethis color and not another.
3. Create a drawing/painting that will coordinate with the poem. Use only shades of this color to create your artwork.
1. Have students rewrite the poem but modernize it. Today there would not be a knight riding a horse, but rather a sergeant driving an SUV for example. Keep the same theme of the poem, but make it fit our society today.
2. Read other poems with the same theme with the students. Compare this poem to other poems of the same subject. Excellent choices would be: Robert Frost’s “the Road Not Taken” and Langston Hughes’ “Dreams”
3. Have students choose a historical persona and rewrite the poem from that person’s point of view. What would Cortés think about this search? For what type of Eldorado was Abraham Lincoln searching?
4. Students should pretend to be the knight in this poem. Have the knight write a letter home explaining what has happened on his journey and why he will not be returning home.