Study Guide

The Naked and the Nude Quotes

  • Lust

    Lovers without reproach will gaze
    On bodies naked and ablaze (7-8)

    We usually think of lust as being sort of shameful, right? But between lovers it's a really, really good thing. Maybe that's why there's no "reproach" in looking at a naked body. Instead, the body seems to be on fire, like the sun.

    And naked shines the Goddess when
    She mounts her lion (11-12)

    Woah. We get a totally different kind of lust at play here: lust for power. C'mon, folks. The Goddess on a lion? That's a pretty powerful form of nakedness.

    The nude are bold (13)

    What inspires lust? Probably a good seduction, right? And that's just what the nude promises. If Cosmo is right, no one likes a shrinking violet.

    the nude are sly (13)

    Notice how the verbs in these descriptions are all conjugations of "to be"? The nudes don't seem sly. Nope. They ARE sly, which is funny, because "nudes" tend to describe artworks, like paintings or statues. (If that's what's meant here, we've got some pretty powerful personification going on.) And it's a little weird for art to be sly. Another reading here is that the speaker is not describing art so much, as its effects on an audience (boldly impactful, or slyly suggestive).

    deficiency of dress
    Or shelter (4-5)

    Hmm. When someone shouts, "Let's get naked!" it just sounds a whole lot more exciting than when someone says, "Let us now take advantage of our deficiency of dress and shelter." (Talk about a weird pick-up line.) This just goes to prove our poet's point: some words are more lust-inspiring than others. And "dress deficiency" just isn't all that high on our list.

    Yet when they both together tread
    The briary pastures of the dead, (21-22)

    Yeah, yeah, we know. This is so far from sexy that we can't even believe it's in the lust category. But hear us out: we're pretty sure that the turn to dead bodies at the end is sorta the point. Not everything is about sexy times. Sometimes bodies are just…bodies. They die. (And then they run around and get whipped. Of course.)

  • Appearances

    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. (1-6)

    Notice how the poem starts with an introduction of a person thinking and seeing in the world? That's a good indicator that we're going to be paying lots of attention to how he sees things—or, put another way: how things appear to him.

    Lovers without reproach will gaze (7)

    Our speaker's not alone in all his looking. (That would be creepy.) Nope, lots of lovers like to look at their partner's body. Remember the cliché "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"? Well, our speaker is concentrating on the act of beholding.

    In nakedness, anatomy; (9)

    Nakedness is just nakedness, right? How do you see anything other than just skin? Well, if you're a doctor, you're training to see through the skin (not literally—unless you're a radiologist). But doctors see the body as a set of symptoms. This means that, to them, the body appears to be something completely different from its surfaces.

    While draping by a showman's trick
    Their dishabille in rhetoric, (15-16)

    And here's where the rubber hits the road. The nude uses language to appear to be something other than it is. It's showmanship. It's not like the nude is actually less naked than a naked person. No way. It's just that the nakedness (even here's it's called by the term "dishabille") is discussed in different terms.

    naked skin (18)

    Wait, isn't nakedness just the appearance of skin? So why the double emphasis on seeing a body's surface (skin) and its lack of clothing (nakedness)? We're betting that it's because it creates a subtle comparison. The nude is covered in something that's not quite skin. In fact, it's fancy language ("rhetoric") that makes the skin seem like something else entirely.

  • Death

    Yet when they both together tread
    The briary pastures of the dead, (19-20)

    It's only at the very end of life that all people do the same thing: die. Funnily enough, it's only at the very end of the poem that this happens. It's almost as if art imitates life, eh? Notice how Graves stacks plural words "both together" right on top of each other. He's rubbing his point in.

    The briary pastures of the dead, (20)

    Pastures seem like pleasant places to be, right? But not when they're covered with briars, those sharp, prickly plants like, say, raspberry bushes. All of a sudden a pleasant place becomes a lot less pleasant. It's the total opposite of a pastoral landscape, where poets tend to place young lovers.

    Gorgons with long whips pursued (23)

    Wow. And we thought briars were bad. Notice how Graves inverts the syntax of this line to draw attention to the Gorgon. That means she must be super-scary—and, as it turns out, super-ugly. Medusa was a Gorgon—you know, the snake-haired woman that turns people to stone if you look at her too long? Bad times.

    How naked go the sometime nude! (24)

    An exclamation point at the end of the line? We're coming to an emphatic end, which is funny, because so are the people discussed in the line itself.

  • Art and Culture

    As love from lies, or truth from art. (5-6)

    Love. Lies. Truth. Art. Graves isn't pulling his punches. Nope, he wallops us with Huge Topic after Huge Topic. But why is truth, say, so contentious? Well, perhaps it's because we have cultural norms for what gets to count as truth—or, for that matter, what gets to count as art. And don't even get us started on love. There are like seven Sex and the City seasons devoted to the cultural quirks of lovers everywhere.

    The Hippocratic eye will see
    In nakedness, anatomy; (9-10)

    Okay, so this isn't so much about culture as it is about anti-culture. That is, doctors learn to treat the body as anatomy. They're not born thinking about all the funny-sounding Latin names for bones. And along the way, they learn to un-think all the things that culture teaches us about nudity or nakedness.

    While draping by a showman's trick (15)

    Now we're getting somewhere. This is the first time that the speaker makes direct reference to art—which is sorta weird, considering that he's actually thinking a lot about a concept in its everyday and its artistic uses. But wait! Even this is, to quote our speaker, a "showman's trick." We think we're getting a description of the nude itself—after all, the language seems to suggest a 3-D form. But he's actually describing a word. Who "drapes" a word? That's some serious figurative language—about language.

    Their dishabille in rhetoric, (16)

    Them sure is some fancy words. They point to some pretty heavy irony in this line, though. After all, we're reading about rhetoric's twisted ways in a poem. But our speaker doesn't care about details like that. He just detests bad rhetoric. And we can tell from the way he chooses an especially English-y word to describe being naked.

    a mock-religious grin
    Of scorn (17-18)

    "Mock-religious grin / Of scorn"? That's a pretty nasty slam. But check out how Graves is actually using one cultural staple against another. Religion is okay. But mock religion seems pretty awful. And anything mock religious would be awful, too—like, say, the sort of art that glorifies a fake version of the human.

    The naked, therefore, who compete
    Against the nude may know defeat; (19-20)

    Notice how almost all the quotes about art and culture are from the middle two stanzas? That's because Graves uses stanzas 2 and 3 to lay out all the weird stuff that society does (and, okay, the cool stuff too) when it encounters folks without clothes on. And in this quote, he sums it up: naked is out. Nude is in.