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The Naked and the Nude

The Naked and the Nude


by Robert Graves

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-6

For me, the naked and the nude
(By lexicographers construed
As synonyms that should express
The same deficiency of dress
Or shelter) stand as wide apart
As love from lies, or truth from art.

  • In case you missed the title of this poem, Graves' speaker doesn't beat around the bush: his subject (we assume that it's a "he") is the difference between the naked and the nude. In fact, he announces as much in the first sentence (which, coincidentally, is also the first stanza). 
  • And did you notice the first two words? "For me." That's right. We're not getting a dictionary definition or a professor's opinion. We're hearing the voice of the lyric speaker in its full glory. 
  • But six lines at once? We know, we know—that's a pretty huge mouthful to chew. But hear us out: this stanza actually sneaks four extra lines into a pretty simple sentence by inserting a huge parenthetical statement. 
  • Check it out: there are actually four lines within parenthesis and just two and change outside of it. But notice how the phrases outside the parenthesis tend to cluster into potentially contradictory relationships? Graves sets us up with three big oppositions: love versus lies, truth versus art, and (you guessed it) naked versus nude. 
  • So what if "lexicographers" say that the words mean the same thing? By offering up an extended simile, which compares the relationship between the naked and the nude to other pretty hostile relationships, Graves is suggesting that he's going to be throwing some kinks into the lexicographers' definitions. 
  • What he says is basically this: we could think of the body without clothes as naked. Or nude. But really, those two words mean very different things. 
  • So who really loves lexicographers, anyway? (That seems to be Graves' suggestion, as well—after all, he puts their learned definitions in parenthesis.)
  • We don't have any solid definitions any longer. Great. But just wait. The waters get even murkier pretty quickly. Notice anything about the other terms that Graves gives us? Sure, love doesn't tend to survive when people are lying all the time. But truth and art? Are they hostile to each other, as well? 
  • Graves isn't giving us any clues…not yet, anyway.

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