Cokaygne

From Anarchy In Action
Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "Luilekkerland" (The Land of Cockaigne), 1567. Oil on panel. (Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

Situated west of Spain, the fictional Land of Cokaygne was a stateless and communist utopia in medieval Europe's anticlerical Christian poetry. In Cokaygne, people never worked and instead spent their days drinking from rivers of wine and milk, eating an abundant array of fruits, cakes, and meats, and using their spiritual powers to fly around. Residents lived in gender-specific monastic orders, but men and women frequently visited each other, swam with each other naked, and seemed to enjoy a culture of sexual liberty. According to the anonymous fourteenth-century poet of "The Land of Cokaygne," residents of this utopia enjoyed pleasures far greater than even those found in the relatively bland and sober Christian heaven.[1]

Everyone had as much food, drink, and clothing as they desired without the need for any "trouble or toil." It was always daytime, and no one ever died or fought with each other.

There are many sweet sights; it is always day, never

night. There is no quarrelling or strife, no death but

ever life. There is no lack of food or clothing, and no

man or woman is ever wroth.[2]


According to the twentieth-century Anarchist Murray Bookchin, Cokaygne was an "utterly anarchic" land with "an almost Dionysian, sensuously earthly world of nature."[3] The fourteenth-century poem portrayed no explicit social hierarchy aside from a rotating authority position held by the father abbot who called the monks for communal meals. Passages about polygamous marriage and the communal drumming of a nun's buttocks imply a patriarchal form of libertinism, or at least an objectifying attitude held by the poet.


Reproduced below is the Medieval Forum's of "The Land of Cokaygne.":

Far across the sea, west of Spain, is a land called

Cokaygne, the richest under heaven. Paradise is merry

and bright, but Cokaygne is a fairer sight. What is there

in Paradise but grass and flowers, and green branches?

Though there is joy and great pleasure, fruit is the only

food. There is no hall, bower or bench, and only water

to quench man’s thirst. Only two men, Elijah and Enoch,

are there, and live sorrowfully alone.


In Cokaygne food and drink are had without worry,

trouble or toil. The meat is choice and the drink is clear

at every meal: noon, afternoon and evening. I swear this

land has no peer under heaven or on earth for such joy

and bliss.


There are many sweet sights; it is always day, never

night. There is no quarrelling or strife, no death but

ever life. There is no lack of food or clothing, and no

man or woman is ever wroth.


There is no serpent, wolf, fox, nor horse, nag, cow nor

ox. There is no sheep, swine or goat, and no studs or

places for breeding horses. There is no filth, and the

land is filled with other goodness: no flies, fleas or lice in

clothing or bed, town or house, and no vile worms or

snails. There is no thunder, sleet, hail, rain, storm or

wind. There is no blindness, and all is games, joy, and

play. One is lucky to be there.


There are fine, great rivers of oil, milk, honey, and wine;

water serves no purpose except as a sight and for

washing. There are many kinds of fruit, and all is

enjoyment and delight.


There is a fair abbey for monks, white and grey, and its

chambers and halls have walls made of pies filled with

fish and rich meats, the most delicious man can eat. The

shingles on the church, cloisters, bowers and hall are

wheat cakes, and the pinnacles are fat puddings, rich

enough for princes and kings. All may be rightfully

eaten without blame, for it is shared in common by

young and old, strong and stern, meek and bold.


The cloister is fair and light, broad and long, a lovely

sight. All the pillars are of crystal, with base and capital

of green jasper and red coral. In the meadow is a

beautiful tree, with roots of ginger and sweet cypress

and shoots of zedoary. Its flowers are choice nutmegs,

the bark sweet-smelling cinnamon, and its fruit delicious

cloves; there was no lack of peppercorns. The red roses

and lovely lilies never fade and are a sweet sight


There are four wells in the abbey, of treacle, healing

water, balm and mead, ever-flowing streams from a bed

of precious stones and gold. There are the sapphire,

pearl, carbuncle, astriune, emerald, chrysaprase, beryl,

onyx, topaz, amethyst, crysolite, chalcedony, and hepatite.


The birds are many and of various kinds: the thrush and

nightingale, lark and woodpecker, and countless others

that never cease singing merrily day and night. Yet I

have more to tell you. Geese roasted on the spit fly to

that abbey, God knows, and call “Geese, all hot! All

hot!” They come with plentiful garlic, the best prepared

that man may see. The lark, stewed and powdered with

cloves and cinnamon, light down into man’s mouth. No

one asks for drink but takes his fill freely.


When the monks go to mass, all the glass windows turn

into bright crystal to give the monks more light. When

mass has been said and the books laid away, the crystal

turns into glass as it was before. Each day after their

meal, the young monks go out to play. No hawk or swift

bird is better at flying in the sky than monks who are in

high spirits, spreading their sleeves and hood. The

abbot watches them fly with much amusement, but

nevertheless calls them down for evensong. The monks

will not alight but fly farther in a flurry. When the abbot

sees them fleeing from him, he takes a maiden from the

company and turns up her white buttocks and beats the

little drums with his hand to make the monks land!

When the monks see that, they fly down to the maiden,

gather around her, and slap her white bottom. After

their work, they wend home meekly to drink and go to

their evening meal in a fair procession.


There is another abbey nearby, a great fair nunnery up a

river of sweet milk, where there is a great plenty of silk.

When the summer day is hot, the young nuns take a boat

and embark onto the river with oars and rudder. When

they are far from the abbey, they make themselves naked

in order to play and leap down into the water slyly to

swim. The young monks who see them fly forth and

soon come to the nuns. Each monk takes one and

quickly bears his prey to the great grey abbey and

teacher her a prayer with leg raised up and down. The

monk that will be a good stallion and set his hood aright

shall easily have twelve wives a year, through right and

not through grace, to comfort himself. The one who

does this best and prepares his body wholly for rest is

hoped, God knows, soon to be father abbot.


Whoever wants to come to that land must pay a heavy

penance: he must wade in swine’s dung up to the chin


for seven years to win the place. Gracious and good

lords, may you never leave this world unless you find

your fortune and fulfill that penance so that you may see

that land. We pray to God that it may be. Amen, in the

name of St Charity.


  1. Ed. George W. Tuma and Dinah Hazell, "The Land of Cokaygne," Medieval Forum, https://www.sfsu.edu/~medieval/complaintlit/cokaygne.html.
  2. "The Land of Cokaygne.
  3. Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Palo Alto: Cheshire Books, 1982) 175.