Absent Dylan 'panned poetry gold', says Swedish critic at Nobel awards night
True to form, Bob Dylan failed to turn up to receive his Nobel prize for literature at the annual awards dinner in Sweden. But in the speech he sent, which was read out by the US ambassador to Sweden, the legendary US singer-songwriter said he was stunned and surprised when he was told he had won a Nobel prize. It was “something I never could have imagined or seen coming”.
“If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon,” he wrote. Dylan said he thought of Shakespeare. “When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: ‘Who’re the right actors for these roles? How should this be staged?’ “
He went on: “I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question: ‘Is this literature?’ ” Dylan explained: “Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself ‘are my songs literature?’ So, I do thank the Swedish academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question and ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.”
Formally presenting the award Horace Engdahl, a Swedish literary critic and member of the Swedish academy behind the prize, said that when Dylan’s songs were heard first in the 1960s, “all of a sudden, much of the bookish poetry in our world felt anaemic.” The academy’s choice of Dylan, Engdahl added, “seemed daring only beforehand and already seems obvious”.
Engdahl argued the novel had once emerged from anecdote and letters, while drama had eventually derived from games and performance. “In the distant past, all poetry was sung or tunefully recited,” he said. Dylan had “panned poetry gold, whether on purpose or by accident is irrelevant … He gave back to poetry its elevated style, lost since the romantics.”
The American singer Patti Smith attended the ceremony in place of Dylan, and sang his early protest song, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, although she stumbled over some of the words, and apologised for being nervous.