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The Naked and the Nude

The Naked and the Nude


by Robert Graves

Stanza 2 Summary

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

Lines 7-8

Lovers without reproach will gaze
On bodies naked and ablaze;

  • Having thrown down a pretty serious challenge to lexicographers, Graves better deliver. And fast. Luckily, he does. The second stanza is all about definitions of the naked—that is, his definitions. It's almost as if Graves is holding a trial to judge which word is best. And his first witness? The lovers. 
  • According to the speaker, lovers are just fine with nakedness. They're not all reproachful like little old ladies who judge when folks try to skinny-dip in ponds. 
  • Notice how Graves is immediately putting the naked body into perspective by, well, adding perspective. We're not just talking about nakedness. We're talking about the people who are observing nakedness. 
  • The rhyme scheme helps make this stanza seem incredibly tight, as well: it's AABBCC, in rhyming couplets. When offered as "evidence" in the case for the naked, each two-line pair seems like its own self-sufficient whole, as the first line rhymes with the second. (Check out "Form and Meter" for more good stuff on this technique.)

Lines 9-10

The Hippocratic eye will see
In nakedness, anatomy;

  • Okay, so our speaker's next witness? "The Hippocratic eye"—which is a fancy metonym for a doctor. (Hippocrates was an ancient and influential Greek doctor.) If you've ever watched Grey's Anatomy, you know that all doctors swear a Hippocratic oath when they become doctors. (And breaking it causes problems and drama.)
  • For this poem, it's just important to note that Graves is introducing another spectator who often observes the human body when it's naked. 
  • What do doctors see? Well, just another body. A doctor sees nakedness as form: head, shoulders, knees, and so on. You probably know the song. 
  • So far, our speaker's using really straightforward language (other than that allusion to Hippocrates, that is). No long-winded phrases with lots of flowery language here. Nope—just short, to-the-point examples.

Lines 11-12

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

  • And the witnesses don't stop coming. Notice how Graves' examples are getting grander and grander? Anyone could be a lover. 
  • Only the smart and fairly well-educated are doctors. And goddesses? Well, that's a tricky job to pull off. 
  • Why the Goddess and not, say, God? Well, for one thing, Graves is head-over-heels for Greek gods and goddesses. He even translated the Greek myths.
  • For another, though, it's sorta hard to imagine exactly what God looks like—even Michelangelo covered him in draping clothes.
  • Even though Graves doesn't refer to his Goddess by name, we're betting it's Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war.
  • She's typically depicted with a snake and a lion, symbols of wisdom and conquering. 
  • Check out how the naked body "ablaze" in line 8 is now the goddess's body shining. By using similar adjectives, Graves is subtly linking the two bodies. The naked human form is sorta like the divine. Not too shabby, eh?

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