Study Guide

The Naked and the Nude Introduction

By Robert Graves

The Naked and the Nude Introduction

If you've ever read any of the poems from the First World War (think gas and mud and death and pain), then chances are you've already hung out a bit with Robert Graves. At the beginning of the twentieth century, if you were a young man and you happened to live in Britain, chances were that you spent a decent amount of time at war. Graves was no exception. His first claim to fame was as a war poet—and in the war, he made pals with Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, two other famous war poets. They wrote together, edited together, and even hung out in the trenches together.

Once the war was over, though, Graves' interest expanded to, well, just about everything. You could think of him as a typical renaissance man: if there was a classical translation to be done, Graves was there to do it. A history to write? He's already got chapters in the bank. From Shakespeare to the Roman Empire to Greek mythology, Graves had a finger in pretty much every literary pie.

And did we mention his interest in art? Well, that's precisely where this poem comes in. Published in 1957, Graves' "The Naked and the Nude" is a spinoff off an article, also called "The Naked and the Nude," written by Walter Sickert in 1910. (Want to check out the original? Take a look at our link over in "Best of the Web.") Sure, the Sickert article was written more than 40 years before Graves' poem, but his concerns were pretty much the same: why is it that art only takes up one type of human body—a prettified, shiny, oh-so-perfect body—like what artists call the "nude"? Why aren't we interested in regular, not-quite-perfect humans? Just plain old naked people? Today, we might ask the same question: why are magazine covers filled with airbrushed people? Are they even actual figures? When do they stop being people and start being, well, fake?

If it bugs us now, it bugged Graves then. Big time. That's why he wrote a response (or even a regeneration) of the Sickert piece. After 47 years, nothing had changed. Enter Graves, bound and determined to make a statement. Did it work? Well, that's up to you to judge.

What is The Naked and the Nude About and Why Should I Care?

Let's face it: when the clothes come off, things get complicated. Then again, they also get a whole lot more interesting. But why is it that certain types of nakedness are acceptable (like, say, the art that you see in museums or the statues that are front and center in public places) and some kinds are not (like that guy who got in trouble for stripping down at an airport)? Why can't we all be naked all the time? It'd sure a lot easier. No more picking out clothes that look good or digging around in the back of the closet for socks that match.

If you do an interwebs search for "nude," however, you probably know what you'd find—lots of images of the female body, and none of them "artistic," as such. Our culture's gone a really long way from the Venus de Milo and even from the times in which Graves was writing. Today, it might seem like Graves is making a big deal out of something that doesn't seem to matter that much (after all, isn't one word just as good as another?). Geez, even Shakespeare weighed in on the subject when he came up with the idea that "a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet." And that was waaay back in the sixteenth century.

The real question, then, seems to be why art seems to make the human body into something other, something different from the body itself. Remember how JLo insured her rear end for like a million bucks? That's the sort of different we're talking about. Why does our culture treat some representations of the body as super-special and the others as, well, just another person looking at themselves in the mirror? Reading this poem will give you the sense that, maybe if we got to the bottom of this whole cultural tangle, it might be easier to live with our bodies, just the way they are.

The Naked and the Nude Resources

Websites

BBC WWI Archives
Sure, Graves was interested in art and literature and theater. In fact, he was a bit of a renaissance man. But he was also a war hero. Learn about his WWI poetry here.

Robert Graves Society
Can't get enough of Graves? Maybe you should join the Graves fan club (otherwise known as the Graves society). Get down with other Gravesians.

Graves Digital Archive
Check out this section of the First World War Poetry Digital archive devoted to Graves and his work.

Video

Robert Graves' MTV appearance
Okay, we're kidding. But seriously, this is an incredibly weird video-and-poetry montage featuring the poet himself.

Indiana Jones Meets the War Poets
Real? Not exactly. But it sure is interesting. The young Indiana Jones gets to hang out with Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Robert Graves.

Audio

Graves Audio Archive
Listen to Graves read all kinds of poems. ("The Naked and the Nude," unfortunately, is not included, but lots of others are.)

Another Graves Reading (With Pictures)
In this link, Graves reads "To Juan at Winter Solstice."

Images

Young Graves
Here's Robert at the time of his service in World War I.

Old Graves
The poet sports a whimsical expression.

Original Nude
The Aphrodite of Knidos is thought to be the first nude sculpture of the Greek goddess. See the elegant pose and the careful placement of the hands? That's classic nude-work, friends.

Articles and Interviews

"The Naked and the Nude"
Thought Graves was the first to write on the difference between the declothed body in art and life? Think again, friends. Think again. Walter Sickert's 1910 essay may well have sparked the conversation that Graves later put into verse.

"The Camden Town Group"
Speaking of Sickert: he was pretty into the dead. (No, not in a creepy way…exactly). His "naked" figure was often a dead woman. Doesn't that sound like art that you don't want in your living room? Read about his take on it here.

Books

The Greek Myths
Want to learn more about the naked goddess on a lion? Who wouldn't? Check out Graves' take on Greek myths to learn more.

I, Claudius
Graves also takes on the first person in prose, imagining the autobiography of a Roman emperor. Believe it or not, it was a bestseller. You can continue your love of all things historical and/or mythical here.

Regeneration
Okay, so Graves isn't a starring role in this novel, but he sure plays an interesting part. Pat Barker's trilogy is all about war poets. It focuses on Siegfried Sassoon, but Graves is included.

Movies & TV

Graves' I, Claudius: The Miniseries
Believe it or not, "The Naked and the Nude" never really made a splash on the big screen. Graves' "autobiography" of the Roman Emperor Claudius did, though. Check out the BBC's take on it.

The Shout
Graves was a man of all talents. He also dabbled in screenplay writing…horror screenplay writing. Here's one of his works.

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