The poem appears twice in The Lord of the Rings' first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring. It appears first in Chapter Ten, "Strider", in Gandalf's letter to Frodo Baggins in Bree, before they know that Strider (Aragorn) is the subject of the verse. It is repeated by Bilbo at the Council of Elrond. He whispers to Frodo that he wrote it many years before, when Aragorn first revealed who he was.
In Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Lord of the Rings for film, the poem appears in The Return of the King, when Arwen recites the last four lines of the poem as her fatherElrond prepares to reforge the shards of Narsil for Aragorn. In the 1981 BBC radio dramatisation, the entire poem is heard in its original context, the letter left at Bree by Gandalf.
The way appearance displays reality in our world is largely inverted in Middle-earth with respect to the subject matter of the poem. The first line is a variant and rearrangement of the proverb "All that glitters is not gold", known primarily from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, resulting in a proposition bearing a completely different meaning: Aragorn is vastly more important than he looks. The second line emphasises the importance of the Rangers, suspiciously viewed as wanderers or vagabonds by those the Rangers actually protect from evil. Lines three and four emphasise the endurance of Aragorn's royal lineage, while five and six emphasizes its renewal. They can also be seen to represent a spark of hope during a time of despair and danger. Line seven refers to the sword Narsil. Line eight foreshadows Aragorn's rise to be king of kingless Gondor and vanished Arnor.
Older editions of The Lord of the Rings indexed the poem as "The Riddle of Strider". From the 50th anniversary edition of 2005 on, the new, enlarged index by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull list it as "All that is gold does not glitter".