The poem opens with some strange words. "Gaily bedight, / A gallant knight"? What's this about. What is happening?
Well, "bedight" means "appareled" or "arrayed" or even "dressed."
Since the speaker is talking about the knight's clothing, "gaily" means "brightly" or "splendidly." He is dressed in a very showy way, we might say. Sequins? Bedazzled cape? The speaker doesn't say.
"Gallant" can mean a number of different things, but here it probably means "chivalrously brave." He is, dare we say it, a knight in shining armor after all, right?
He's both brave and a boss dresser. He's got it going on!
Structural note: The first two lines here rhyme ("bedight" with "knight"). When two lines rhyme right next to each other like this, it's called a couplet (like a little couple!). (You can read more about the poem's rhyme scheme in "Form and Meter".)
In sunshine and in shadow, Had journeyed long, Singing a song, In search of Eldorado.
So, what's this "gallant knight" up to, anyway? Apparently, he's been on a trip—for a really, really long time. Day and night, our man's been on the go.
"Sunshine and shadow" probably means the knight travelled through sunny, open places as well as through darker, more shadowy places, like forests, canyons, caves—you name it. Just think of all the places in Lord of the Rings and you'll have an idea of where the knight has been.
Still, he seems happy enough, what with his karaoke act and all. (Maybe he was crooning a U2 number!)
Notice how we don't know what the knight is doing until the fourth line; the first three lines are all description. It's almost like the speaker is trying to build up the suspense (it's really killing us!).
At last, though, we learn why the knight is on this journey. "Eldorado" (sometimes spelled El Dorado) is a Spanish word that means "the gilded one" or "the golden one." It's not a person, though. It's a city, a legendary city made entirely of gold and supposedly located somewhere in South America. Spanish Conquistadors and other European explorers went in search of Eldorado in the 1500s, but of course they never found it. Bummer. Since then, Eldorado has become a symbol for something mythical, beautiful, but unattainable—kind of like a perfect SAT score or something.
So, is this knight searching for the literal Eldorado, the "Lost City of Gold," or is this just a metaphor for something else that he's trying to find?
Note that "Eldorado" rhymes with "shadow." (Is Eldorado just a shadow, something unreal? Or is this just a coincidence?) And, hey! The other lines in this first stanza rhyme, too. That's right, the first two lines rhyme, the fourth and fifth lines rhyme, and the third and sixth rhyme.
Also notice that there are a lot of words that start with "s" in here: "sunshine," "shadow," "Singing," "song," "search." That repetition of the first sound in a group of words is called in the poetry biz alliteration. Head over to "Sound Check" to read more about it!