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William Blake (1757-1827)

Milton: But in the Wine-presses the Human Grapes Sing not nor Dance

(excerpt)


              1But in the Wine-presses the human grapes sing not nor dance:
              2They howl and writhe in shoals of torment, in fierce flames consuming,
              3In chains of iron and in dungeons circled with ceaseless fires,
              4In pits and dens and shades of death, in shapes of torment and woe:
              5The plates and screws and racks and saws and cords and fires and cisterns
              6The cruel joys of Luvah's Daughters, lacerating with knives
              7And whips their victims, and the deadly sport of Luvah's Sons.

              8They dance around the dying and they drink the howl and groan,
              9They catch the shrieks in cups of gold, they hand them to one another:
            10These are the sports of love, and these the sweet delights of amorous play,
            11Tears of the grape, the death sweat of the cluster, the last sigh
            12Of the mild youth who listens to the luring songs of Luvah.

Notes

1] Milton was first engraved by Blake in or shortly after 1808, although it bears the date 1804 on its title-page. It is in two books, though originally planned to have twelve, and the most complete of its four surviving copies has fifty plates, The theme is the descent of Milton from heaven into Blake's body at a crucial point in Blake's life. This extract is from the concluding part of the first book.
This passage is a vision of the martyrdom of man, with particular reference to the contemporary Napoleonic wars, presented as a perversion of the erotic impulse, symbolized by Luvah. The imagery of treading the wine-press is derived from Isa. 63: 1-6.

9] cups of gold: cf. Jer. 51: 7 and Rev. 17: 4.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Blake, Milton (1804), plate 24, lines 30-41. Blake's Illuminated Books, ed. David Bindman (Princeton, NJ: William Blake Trust; London: Tate Gallery, 1991-). See Vol. 5. PR 4142 B46 1991 ROBA.
First publication date: 1808
Publication date note: ca. 1808 (notwithstanding the date of publication)
RPO poem editor: Northrop Frye
RP edition: 3RP 2.298.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/14*1:2003/7/30

Composition date: 1804 - 1808
Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by William Blake