Summit County poetry: Mayflower Gulch and Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘Eldorado’
Special to the Dail
“Eldorado,”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!”
El Dorado — the golden one. Written as two words, El Dorado is a city of treasure pursued by European explorers. Anglicized into one word, Eldorado is a metaphor representing any prized place that is sought after but never found.
Edgar Allen Poe wrote “Eldorado” in 1849, the first year of the California gold rush and the final year of his calamitous life.
At age three, both of his parents passed away. He successfully transitioned to foster care, but not to higher education, dropping out of college — twice. His first fiancé abandoned him for another man, and his second passed away from tuberculosis after just 10 years of marriage.
With such a tough life, it’s no wonder that he excelled in the gothic genre. Morbid, mysterious stories and poems like “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Raven” define his literary legacy. Compared to these, “Eldorado” is a breath of fresh air.
The gallant knight and the pilgrim shadow take the main stage in “Eldorado.” The knight sets off, singing a song, searching for Eldorado. His journey drags on and his strength deteriorates as he fails to find what he is looking for.
Then, the pilgrim appears.
Pilgrims are travelers journeying to a holy place. Sometimes, the journey ends at a physical location like Mecca, the Temple Mount, or Plymouth Rock. Other times, the journey is metaphorical, the spiritual destination being physically unattainable.
The pilgrim shadow brings the knight new direction and fresh encouragement. The pilgrim also brings a change in meter and rhyme.
Through the first three stanzas, the poem is tightly structured. Each half-stanza follows a 4-4-7 meter: Four syllables make up the first and second lines; seven syllables make up the third. The last words of each four-syllable line rhyme with each other (bednight and knight, long and song, etc.). The words “shadow” and “Eldorado” repeat at the midpoint and end of each stanza, respectively.
In the fourth stanza, Mr. Poe borrows a beat from the second line and adds it to the first, making a 5-3-8 meter. Also, he fails to rhyme “mountains” and “moon,” which the reader is now expecting.
This change in structure cues the reader to take notice of the knight’s changing situation. New directions — over the Mountains, of the Moon, down the Valley of the Shadow (of Death) — provide the knight with a new path. The climax of the poem, “ride, boldly ride,” encourages the distressed knight onward.
Poe at Mayflower Gulch
Mayflower Gulch, located on the western slope of the Tenmile Range, represents both the original El Dorado and the anglicized Eldorado. Years ago, miners hoped to ride Mayflower Gulch to a holy land of golden riches. Today, hikers can find the spiritual refreshment of the high Rockies if they so desire.
Mayflower Gulch and its surrounding peaks are accessible from the Mayflower Gulch Trailhead. To get there, drive west on Interstate 70 to Copper Mountain and exit south onto Highway 91. Take note of your odometer as you drive south for six miles towards Leadville.
When a third lane is added to the two-lane highway, start looking for parked cars on the left-hand side of the road as the turn into the parking lot is unmarked.
The trail follows an old mining road, gradually gaining elevation alongside patches of woods and remnants of the mining camp. After a mile and half, you’ll emerge into the open expanses of the Mayflower basin. There, you’ll immediately notice the remains of three mining buildings and, if the season is right, swathes of wildflowers.
Be careful as you explore the ruins — some of the wooden beams still have rusted nails protruding out. Poe died mysteriously of “congestion of the brain” (no one know exactly what killed him). Tetanus is an equally distressing malaise.
From the basin, the views to the east are rugged. Atlantic Peak is on the left (to the northeast), Fletcher Mountain is in the middle (to the southeast), and an assortment of jagged, rocky formations straddle the skyline to the left and right. If you ski at Copper, you’ll recognize these rocky formations from the top of the Super Bee lift.
If you’re feeling particularly spry, you can summit Atlantic and Pacific peaks from Mayflower Gulch. At the top, the views to the west are expansive. Tailings ponds, Jacques Peak and Copper Bowl occupy the foreground, while Mount of the Holy Cross (the only 14er in Eagle County) is visible in the background, about 20 miles away.
Take your time and explore the area, but don’t forget to visit the uppermost of the three buildings in the basin. The walls of this building have fallen, making a comfortable spot to rest your feet and enjoy the views. These benches don’t have backs, but the wooden planks are more comfortable than any nearby rock or tree stump. As you pause to rest, enjoy the 360-degree panorama and the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. “Eldorado” is in the public domain, so print off a copy beforehand and bring it with you as you ride, boldly ride, into Mayflower Gulch.
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