Locus amoenus

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An inherited place of comfort can always be lost. British Library Egerton 912 (France, 1415)

A place to travel to, a place to see and a place to settle into. How about settling for all eternity, when eternity is simply endless time?

The history of literature is also the history of imagining and finding a place to spend a life removed from the forcefulness of ageing, corruption and the compulsion of death. A place of comfort, a space of beauty and joy, a sanctuary far from the madding crowd. A locus amoenus, a pleasant place.

The Garden of Eden, the Elysian fields, Arcadia, the lush countryside are common loci amoeni of European literature. They are literary commonplaces, but they also exist outside literature, in our imagination. You don’t need to read Dante’s Divine Comedy to establish a place of refuge atop mountains of hopes, fears, regrets and desires. You don’t need to visit Tolkien’s Shire to shun the malaise of modernity and urbanism in favour of the pastoral landscape and lifestyle, off the grid of urban ties.

We all carry loci amoeni in us wherever we go. A sand beach lined up with palm trees, the breaking surf whispering simple comfort; A wooden hut in the pine forest, set by a steady stream. A verdant oasis in the middle of the desert. The list goes on and on.

In literature or in our imagination, these places don’t really exist. Nothing is as good as the ideas we have, no place is as good as how we imagine it. But however utopian they may be, they are not illusory. By haunting our imagination and the pages of our books, the loci amoeni help bring a slice of paradise to us and others, moving us forward and upward.

 

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