The Naked and the Nude by Robert Graves

In ‘The Naked and the Nude’ Graves explores themes of rhetoric/language, art, and perception. Through the investigation of definitions, allusions, and associations, Graves explains the perceived difference between being “naked” and being “nude”. 

 

Summary of The Naked and the Nude 

‘The Naked and the Nude’ by Robert Graves is a clever and complicated poem that depicts the difference, or lack thereof, between nakedness and nudity. 

The speaker addresses the two ways of being as wholly different from one another. They are as estranged as lies and love and art and truth. The poet uses several examples to describe how these two things are different, as seen through the eyes of doctors, lovers, and art. But, by the end of the poem, he comes to the conclusion that in reality they really aren’t so different. Whether one is naked or nude the afterlife is always waiting. 

You can read the full poem here.

 

Structure of The Naked and the Nude 

‘The Naked and the Nude’ by Robert Graves is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines, known as sestets. These sestets follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCC, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The meter is also quite regular. It conforms to the steady pattern of iambic tetrameter. This means that each line contains four sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. There is one moment in which the pattern changes though, line one of the second stanza. It starts with a  trochee, meaning that the word “Lovers” has the stress on the first syllable rather than the second. 

 

Literary Devices in The Naked and the Nude 

Graves makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Naked and the Nude’. These include but are not limited to allusion, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, allusion, is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. For example, the reference to the goddess, likely Athena, and to the Gorgons in the afterlife at the end of the poem. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “naked” and “nude” in line one and “draping” and “dishabille” in lines three and four of the third stanza.

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout this piece. For instance, the transitions between lines two and three of the first stanza and one and two of the fourth stanza. 

 

Analysis of The Naked and the Nude 

Stanza One 

For me, the naked and the nude

(…)

As love from lies, or truth from art.

In the first stanza of The Naked and the Nude,’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used, in part, in the title of the poem. He immediately informs the reader that this poem is going to be about the difference between being naked an being nude. It is his own opinion, as the first two lines of the poem state. He initially believes in these first lines that there is a huge difference between being naked and being nude. They are as far apart from one another as “love from lies” and “truth from art”. 

The “lexicographers” might say that the two things mean the same thing but the speaker doesn’t think so. 

 

Stanza Two 

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;

(…)

And naked shines the Goddess when
She mounts her lion among men.

The second stanza of ‘The Naked and the Nude‘ provides the reader with several definitions of the word “naked”. He brings in the lovers as the first example. They are content with “bodies naked and ablaze”. Next, he mentions a doctor who has a “Hippocratic eye,” an allusion to Hippocrates and the Hippocratic oath. The doctor sees the nakedness as nothing more than “anatomy”. 

Last, there is mention of a goddess. She “shines” naked in the world of men. The goddess that he refers to, although not mentioned by name, is likely Athena. She is the goddess of both wisdom and war and is often associated with a lion. 

 

Stanza Three 

The nude are bold, the nude are sly

(…)

Of scorn at those of naked skin.

The third stanza of ‘The Naked and the Nude,’ defines the word “nude” and explains how it differs from being “naked”. The “nude” body captivates and holds the “treasonable eye”. The word is used in order to elevate nakedness to the level of art so that all might observe it without being troubled. The word “dishabille” appears in the fourth line. It means to be in a state of undress. It’s a complex word that emphasizes the way that language manipulates one state of being into meaning two different things. These forms look down upon those who are crudely “naked”. 

 

Stanza Four

The naked, therefore, who compete
Against the nude may know defeat;

(…)

By Gorgons with long whips pursued,
How naked go the sometimes nude! 

In the final four lines of ‘The Naked and the Nude,’ the speaker says that the “naked” are always going to lose in competition with the “nude”. But, things change slightly in the last lines. He makes the point that no matter if one is considered “naked” or “nude” they always end up in the “briary pastures of the dead”. Death is always waiting at the end of the line for everyone, rhetoric cannot save you. 

The final line contains an allusion to the “Gorgons” from Greek mythology. The Gorgons, like Medusa, have the ability to turn people to stone. They follow and whip the “sometimes nude,” likely turning them into statues. A reference that again connects back to the world of art. 

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