Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ride, boldly ride

Though Poe's relationship with the Boston-based newspaper Flag of Our Union was likely a love-hate one, some of his greatest works were published in it. One of the greatest continues off a theme introduced in "Von Kempelen and His Discovery": the California Gold Rush.

The poem "Eldorado" was first published in the April 21, 1849* issue of the Flag of Our Union, a week after the more comical treatment of "Von Kempelen" was published. "Eldorado" is a short one, but within its 24 lines, I read humor, irony, sadness, foreboding, hope, and courage. Like those who have joined the frenzy of the gold rush, the narrator in this poem is seeking easy riches. Yet, he will learn his journey will be a long, arduous one - and it seems hinted that it will never be successful. Biographer Kenneth Silverman (as he often does) quickly and without irony assigns Poe himself the role of the narrator of this poem: reaching the end of his life, Poe still grasps for success and, though he finds it unattainable, forever continues reaching.

I disagree on the autobiographical reading; instead, the poem should stand on its own for its beauty and strength as a poem. One of its greatest (yet most subtle) beauties is in the changing meaning of the word "shadow" throughout:

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!"
*It seems that each issue came out exactly one week before the date on its title page.
**The image above is by French illustrator Edmund Dulac, circa 1920s.

1 comment:

Gina said...

Such a beautiful poem. I hadn't read it in years and had almost forgotten it. I'm glad you ran it!