Tuesday, November 9, 2010


File:Pieter Bruegel d. Ä. 037.jpg
The Land of Cockaigne by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

I found this delightful 14th century poem that speaks of a heavenly land far west of Spain. Probably written in Ireland by some monk, who knows:

Far in the sea to the west of Spain
There is a land that we call Cokaygne;
Under God's heaven no other land
Such wealth and goodness has in hand
Though paradise be merry and bright,
Cokaygne is yet a fairer sight.
For what is there in paradise
But grass and flowers and green rice?
Though there be joy and great delight,
There is no food for the appetite;
There is no hall, nor room, nor bench,
Nothing but water man's thirst to quench.
There are only two people there,
Elijah and Enoch with him.
Tediously are they able to lead their lives
In a place where no other people dwell!
In Cokayne there is food and drink
Without care, anxiety and labor.
The food is excellent, the drink is splendid,
At dinner, snack time, and supper.
I say in truth, without doubt,
There is no land on earth its equal.
Indeed, there is no land under heaven
Which has so much joy and bliss.
Many a pleasing sight is there;
It is always day, there is no night.
There is no conflict or strife;
There is no death, but life forever;
There is no lack of food or clothing;
There no woman is angry at no man;
There is no snake, wolf, or fox;
No horse, cow or ox;
There is no sheep, no swine, no goat;
There is no dirt, God knows,
Nor horse-breeding farm nor stud farm.
The land is full of other goods.
There is no fly nor flea, nor louse,
In clothing, village, bed or house.
There is no thunder, no hail,
There is no vile worm nor snail,
And no storm, rain nor wind.
There no man nor woman is blind…

This reflects only half of the full poem but it is worth a read, especially for someone residing far to the west of Spain. Ha!

I came across it during my daily read from an old textbook and found it on line.

Oh and this is a translation so be sure to catch the original written in Middle English; more or less the language of Chaucer.

It all reminded me of this little ditty recently resurrected in Brother, Where Art Thou:

And catch an earlier version from Burl Ives:

The words change over the century, but the song remains the same in my mind.

Seeger speaks about how songs were taken by the old American folk singers without worry of copyright infringement. Pete spoke about taking a song and adding or subtracting words where he chose.

And friends would take his new version and just amend it to their liking.


One evening as the sun went down and the jungle fire was burning 
Down the track came a hobo hiking and he said boys I'm not turning 
I'm headin for a land that's far away beside the crystal fountains 
So come with me we'll go and see the Big Rock Candy Mountains 
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains there's a land that's fair and bright 
Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night 
Where the boxcars are all empty and the sun shines every day 
On the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees 
Where the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings 
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains 
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains all the cops have wooden legs 
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth and the hens lay soft boiled 
The farmer's trees are full of fruit and the barns are full of hay 
Oh, I'm bound to go where there ain't no snow 
Where the rain don't fall and the wind don't blow 
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains. 

I was just struck by the similarities between a 14th century ditty and a 20th century folk song.

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