Cockaigne or Cockayne // is a medieval trope denoting a mythical land of plenty, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist. Specifically, in poems like The Land of Cockaigne, Cockaigne is a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheeses). Writing about Cockaigne was a commonplace of Goliard verse. It represented both wish fulfillment and resentment at the strictures of asceticism and dearth.
While the first recorded use of the name are the Latin "Cucaniensis", and the Middle English "Cokaygne", or modern-day "Cuckoo-land", one line of reasoning has the name tracing to Middle French (pays de) cocaigne "(land of) plenty," ultimately adapted or derived from a word for a small sweet cake sold to children at a fair (OED). In Italian, the same place is called "Paese della Cuccagna"; the Flemish-Belgian equivalent is "Luilekkerland" ("relaxed luscious, delicious land"), translated from the Middle-Belgian word "Cockaengen", and the German equivalent is Schlaraffenland (also known as "land of milk and honey"). In Spain an equivalent place is named Jauja, after a rich mining region of the Andes, and País de Cucaña ("fools' paradise") may also signify such a place. From Swedish dialect lubber (fat lazy fellow) comes Lubberland, popularized in the ballad An Invitation to Lubberland.
In the 1820s, the name Cockaigne came to be applied jocularly to London, as the land of Cockneys, and thus "Cockaigne", though the two are not linguistically connected otherwise. The composer Edward Elgar used the title "Cockaigne" for his concert overture and suite evoking the people of London, Cockaigne (In London Town) (1901).
Like Atlantis and El Dorado, the land of Cockaigne was a utopia, a fictional place where, in a parody of paradise, idleness and gluttony were the principal occupations. In Specimens of Early English Poets (1790), George Ellis printed a 13th-century French poem called "The Land of Cockaigne" where "the houses were made of barley sugar and cakes, the streets were paved with pastry, and the shops supplied goods for nothing"
According to Herman Pleij, Dreaming of Cockaigne: Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life (2001):
- "roasted pigs wander about with knives in their backs to make carving easy, where grilled geese fly directly into one's mouth, where cooked fish jump out of the water and land at one's feet. The weather is always mild, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available, and all people enjoy eternal youth."
Cockaigne was a "medieval peasant’s dream, offering relief from backbreaking labor and the daily struggle for meager food."
A Neapolitan tradition, extended to other Latin-culture countries, is the Cockaigne pole (Italia: cuccagna; Spanish: cucaña), a horizontal or vertical pole with a prize (like a ham) at one end. The pole is covered with grease or soap and planted during a festival. Then, daring people try to climb the slippery pole to get the prize. The crowd laughs at the often failed attempts to hold to the pole.
- Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis (I am the Abbot of Cockaigne) is one of the drinking songs (Carmina potatoria) found in the 13th-century manuscript of Songs from Benediktbeuern, better known for its inclusion in Carl Orff's secular cantata, Carmina Burana.
- Cockaigne was depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in The Land of Cockaigne (1567, above).
- The poem The Land of Cokaygne, appears in BL Harley MS 913, ff. 3r-63v (The Kildare Poems, #1); modern English translation.
- The album Land of Cockayne by Soft Machine, 1981.
- Cockaigne (In London Town) is a concert overture composed by Edward Elgar in 1901.
- "Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a song about a hobo's idea of paradise, a modern version of the medieval concept of Cockaigne.
- Cockaigne, a 2003 painting by Vincent Desiderio
- The Cockaigne ski resort, located on the Chautauqua Ridge in the ski country belt in Cherry Creek, New York.
- Cockaigne is the home of Narda, the wife of Mandrake the Magician (created by Lee Falk), most recently mentioned in The Phantom (also by Lee Falk) in the Sunday series shown on May 19, 2013. Mandrake and Narda are visiting Kit "The Ghost Who Walks" and Diana Walker.
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- "Le Pastel et le Pays de Cocagne". Lautrec.fr. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- Today's wwftd is... Worthless words for the day, by Michael A. Fischer.
- OED notes a first usage in 1824.
- "Cockney" from a "cock's egg", an implausible creature (see also basilisk).
- Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (2001-05-01). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Wordsworth Editions. p. 265. ISBN 9781840223101.
- "Dreaming of Cockaigne". Cup.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- "New York Public Library: Utopia". Utopia.nypl.org. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- "Anglo-Irish poems of the Middle Ages: The Kildare Poems". Ucc.ie. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- "The Land of Cockaygne: Translation". Soton.ac.uk. 2003-05-28. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- "A great place for winter fun - Ski Cockaigne". Cockaigne.com[dead link]. 2011-10-31. Retrieved 2012-10-02. The resort was closed following a fire that destroyed the lodge in February 2011.