Naked and the Nude

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Robert Graves, “The Naked and The Nude”

Let’s start with a bare bones summary.

Stanza 1: Dictionary makers say the words “naked” and “nude” are synonyms, but Graves says they’re very different. Stanza 2: Naked is natural and innocent.
Stanza 3: Nude is sneaky, uninnocent.
Stanza 4: So the nude could defeat the naked; but in the end, they’re the same.

But, bare bones summaries never tell the whole story (With this poem’s title, I couldn’t resist the “bare bones”; if you caught it the first time, sorry for the repetition).

The “Latinate” “scholarly” vocabulary of the first stanza is appropriate. It sounds more like a dictionary or encyclopedia than a poem because Graves is starting with dictionary definitions.

(Sidebar----The text raised that issue and this is a good time to say something about the questions or topics for writing after the works. Sometimes the point is obvious; sometimes it’s important; sometimes it’s not; sometimes I don’t understand the point. But my point is, read the questions and topics; if you think about them, you’ll be helping yourself reach a better understanding of the work).

But after citing the dictionary’s belief that the two words are synonyms, Graves insists they are as different “As love from lies or truth from art.” We have no trouble separating the alliteration-linked “love” and “lies”; but the next pair should cause us to pause, make us say, Huh. For we probably would expect an artist to think and say that art is true. But when we remember the simplest definition of art (an imitation or impression of reality) we remember that art is not real; “art” after all is the root word of “artificial.” So art is not true.

In the second stanza Graves cites three positive examples of “naked.” For lovers the lack of clothes is obviously appropriate and a turn on. The condition is also appropriate for doctors, but they only see anatomy. The virgin goddess Diana is so innocent that she wears nothing, so...
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