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The Naked and the Nude

The Naked and the Nude


by Robert Graves

Analysis: Form and Meter

Iambic Tetrameter

"The Naked and the Nude" keeps things on the straight and narrow: four stanzas, six lines each. One stanza lays out the problem: Naked vs. nude—which is better? And then one stanza is devoted to each "side" of the case. The final stanza resolves the problem (in the speaker's opinion, at least).

Even the rhyme scheme is as simple as it can get. The stanzas each have three rhyming couplets. (For those of you Shmoopsters who like the alphabet, that scheme reads AABBCC, where each letter refers to a particular end rhyme.) Couple that with the fact that all of the lines have regular iambic meter, which means that every other syllable is accented. An iamb is a pair of syllables with the stress on the second syllable: da-DUM. (Say "allow" out loud to hear an iamb in action.) Now check out the first line:

For me, the naked and the nude

See? It's as regular as can be. And the meter never, ever changes. All iambic. All the time. Well…most of the time. Not every line, apparently, got the iambic tetrameter memo. Take line 7 for example:

Lovers without reproach will gaze

"Lovers" thwarts the iambic pattern, with its emphasis on the first syllable instead of the second. That's called a trochee. And what's it doing there in the middle of this beautifully symmetrical rhyme scheme? Well, consider the point of the poem: to knock the nude down a peg, to rescue the reality of the human form from the preciousness of art. Wouldn't it make sense to interrupt the poetic form, then, as a kind of subtle reminder that this poem's speaker isn't buying into art's detachment (with the nude) from reality (the naked).

So, this poem, in its criticism of art, is not entirely buying into conventional artistic forms. Another example? This poem is not written in blank verse. Blank verse is iambic pentameter (which means that there are 10 syllables per line.) This only has 8 syllables. In fancy terms, that's iambic tetrameter. Why the demotion? Well, we're guessing that the slightly-less-formal feel of tetrameter is exactly what Graves is after. After all, Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter. And since his verse is pretty much English with a capital E, anything less (like tetrameter) feels less formal. His tone is cheeky, off-hand, especially when he makes his pronouncement "How naked go sometimes the nude!" Even though he's taking on serious questions about art and life, he wants to have fun, and he wants his readers to have fun too. We can tell because the meter sets a rollicking pace that we, as readers, can't help but assume.

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