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The Naked and the Nude

The Naked and the Nude


by Robert Graves

Analysis: What's Up With the Title?

We're not sure exactly where Graves got his title for certain, but we're willing to bet that it's got something to do with an article that a painter named Walter Sickert wrote in 1910 called…you guessed it: "The Naked and the Nude." In it, Sickert got up in arms about the fact that nudes were being portrayed pretty unrealistically. In fact, they were so fancified that they started to look like non-human deities. They weren't bodies.

Sickert's complaint is actually one that seemed pretty common in Impressionism, an artistic movement from the 1860s to the early 1900s that was much more interested in how things looked for reals (that is, how a body looks in motion, or in different lights, or from different angles), than in depicting a Perfect Form.

(Want to see what this more realistic approach looks like? Check out these images that Sickert painted. There's even a murder involved. It's all very exciting, we promise. We've included them in our "Best of the Web: Images" section, too.)

It sure seems to us like Graves is picking up the fight where Sickert left off. If Sickert cared about the way bodies were depicted in painting, Graves is worried about the sorts of associations that get attached to words. "Naked" seems bad and dirty, like a lewd picture. "Nude" came to connote art, culture, and acceptable nudity. And that, for Graves, is a problem. The title lays out his terms is exactly the same straightforward way that the poem will proceed. It also joins the two seemingly different terms together with that "and" in the middle – accomplishing nicely what the poem goes on to point out in the lines that follow. Neat, huh?

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