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The Naked and the Nude

The Naked and the Nude


by Robert Graves

Analysis: Sound Check

Read the first stanza of the poem aloud. Go on. We'll still be here when you get back.

Did it feel like you were riding a horse or singing a marching song? That's the super-duper-ultra-regular iambic tetrameter at work. (Want to know more about that rhythm? Check out our "Form and Meter" section.) It makes the poem feel light and bouncy, which is strange considering that Graves is discussing something that poets usually take pretty darn seriously: art. It makes us like him just a little more. Who doesn't like someone who knows how to take themselves less seriously?

There are only a few big or foreign words in this poem, and it's actually pretty cool how Graves sets them up to sound clunky. We're meant to trip a little bit over the word "lexicographers" and probably try to sound French (and, well, stumbling) as we pronounce "dishabille." The words sound as stuffy as they're meant to, which means that even as they roll over our tongues, we're inclined not to like them. And that suits Graves' speaker just fine. He wants us to think that people who speak with fancy words are the sorts who tend to appreciate the nude and disdain nakedness. So fancy words that are hard to pronounce become implicit ways to discredit people who use other high-falutin' words like, say, nude.

Other than those few words, the poem works pretty smoothly on the tongue. It sounds a little like a Jon Stewart take on words—if Jon Stewart discussed words at length and lived at the beginning of the twentieth century. Part of that smoothness, then, comes from Graves' use of assonance to make this picture even more gripping. Check out, for example, lines 7-8, when "gaze," "naked," and "ablaze" all share the same long A vowel sound. It's like perceiving nakedness is actually something that the "gaze" does naturally…because they share the same sound.

Finally, there is one big example of alliteration in this poem: it starts with the title and doesn't let up until the very last line. We're talking, of course, about "naked" and "nude," the two words which are the subject of the poem itself. The repetition of an initial N sound hammers home the point that these two words are, strictly speaking, pretty similar—with the same general meaning and even the same first consonant (that's where the alliteration comes from). So what's Graves making such a fuss about? Actually, the alliteration does something pretty cool: it highlights the similarity between the words, which makes the differences that Graves points out all the more striking.

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