The third line of every stanza in the poem contains the word "shadow." But it's not always the same shadow. In the first stanza, it seems to be a literal shadow—you know the one made by a tree or a sundial? In the second stanza it refers to a kind of depression or frustration. And in the third stanza it most likely describes a ghost who shows up and gives the knight some very cryptic advice. In all three cases, though, shadows are symbols of sadness, danger, and death. Any way you slice it, shadows are no good in this poem.
- Line 3: We learn that the knight has journeyed "in sunshine and in shadow." Shadow is here a metaphor, either for nighttime or any dark place through which the knight may have traveled.
- Line 9: A shadow fell over the knight's heart because, even in old age, he still hadn't found Eldorado. The shadow falling is here a metaphor for being overcome by despair and depression. The repetition of the beginning H sound in this line ("his heart") is an example of alliteration.
- Lines 15-16: The "pilgrim shadow" in these lines seems to be a ghost, or some type of spirit. It could also be a metaphor for the knight himself, who is wandering like a pilgrim, though unfulfilled as a shadow.
- Line 21: The journey down the "Valley of the Shadow" is a biblical allusion to a famous metaphor for death, or for crossing the threshold between life and death.
- Line 22-24: The shadow, now called the "shade," speaks again. The repetition of the letter "r" (ride, ride, replied) and the letter "s" (shade, seek) is called alliteration.