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

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.
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,
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.


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. Back to Line
9] cups of gold: cf. Jer. 51: 7 and Rev. 17: 4. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
ca. 1808 (notwithstanding the date of publication)
RPO poem Editors: 
Northrop Frye
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.298.