El Dorado

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the work of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


There are versions handwritten by Kipling in Notebook 1, dated 16 August 1882, and in Notebook 3 with in addition the facetious subtitle “Or ‘He Done His Level Best’”. See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 168, and Pinney p. 1675.

The Poem

El Dorado means ‘the gilded one’ in Spanish. Originally it was the name given to the supposed King of a fabulous city of gold sought by both Spaniards and English in South America; hence the city itself. (Rutherford)

The poet sets out on what he expects to be a long quest, but finds a safe place only a mile from the city wall. In verses 4 to 6 the inhabitants of the city ask what he discovered, as they have always found that even a furlong (one eighth of a mile, about 200 metres) from the Battlement the country is full of devils. In the last four verses the poet describes the love that walls the little place he found and protects it from the devils.

It is perhaps a metaphor for the young poet’s life, striving for the distant goal of success and recognition through dangerous times and places full of hazards and hostility. He has so far found a safe place for himself nearby, in the shape of his love for his lady, and the verses that it has inspired.

The verse form is intricate and ingenious, with the same two rhyming words – level and devil – ending the second and sixth line of each verse.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1 line 6] leasing untruth, falsehood.

[Verse 10 lines 7-8] A dwelling place of lust and sin -/ And there take harness – fight or fall.
Compare Kipling’s earlier poem “Sir Galahad” , where the adventurers set out fully armed, fighting Lust and passion, but are defeated and return with their swords bent and rusted and their armour ruined.


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved