The first three lines are a repetitive invocation to "black milk" that forms the first musical theme of the poem's fugue (see "Form and Meter"). Black milk symbolizes the unwholesome and bitter quality of the camp experience. Everything else in the poem, from digging graves to executions, is an example of figurative "black milk." Imagine people forced to drink oil or sludge. The image has specific connections to the Hebrew scriptures, because in the scriptures the "land of milk and honey" is referred to as a kind of paradise. In fact, this phrase is still in use today – maybe you've heard it. In "Deathfugue," of course, there is nothing sweet or paradise-like about the camp, so the reference is very ironic.