Trying to process the news re: Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize

(poetry diary 55) I’ve been looking for articles to help me process the news about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, which, frankly, has me feeling a little depressed.  (The coworker who told me the news seemed amused at my “Ha ha you’re kidding.  Right? You’re not? Oh, Sh**” reaction this morning. He called me a “purist.”  I guess that’s accurate.  Sigh.)

I guess I’m just afraid of people reading Bob Dylan’s lyrics as “poetry” and then not going on to explore the world of poetry written to be read on the page (or, yes, sure, on the stage,) w/the music coming out of the words themselves & w/out needing the accompaniment of musical instruments to improve it.

If people think of his song lyrics as what they are, i.e. truly great song lyrics w/poetic sensibility, then…great!  It will be wonderful if this inspires musicians to write better and better song lyrics too. And it would be cool if English teachers used this as a teaching-point in class–i.e. to give students song lyrics by Bob Dylan and, perhaps, poetry by Dylan Thomas, who Bob Dylan named himself after, and have them compare and contrast and discuss and maybemaybemaybeohpleasepleaseplease look further into the poetry world as well.

Note: My husband wrote me this morning that one of his friends once “took a ‘Dylan as Poetry’ course…. The teacher would get mad because people would show up for it stoned and talk nonsense.” Hm. Maybe this prize will get students to take Bob Dylan more seriously too (?) 

As for the articles I’ve been finding, Matthew Zapruder has a good 2012 essay at The Boston Review on The Difference Between Poetry and Song Lyrics. I like this bit:

To say that…song lyrics are less literary than poems, or require less skill or intelligence or training or work to create, is patently absurd (and, in the case of rap music, patronizing). But that does not mean that song lyrics are poems. They might sometimes accidentally function like poems when taken out of a musical context, but abstracting lyrics from musical information is misleading and beside the point. It seems to me far more productive to ask how lyrics in songs relate to musical information, and how poems relate to the silences (cultural and actual) that surround them, and to recognize that lyrics and poetry, while different genres with different forces and imperatives, have both more and less in common than we might think, and are endeavors of equal value.

And here’s Alexander Poirier at Pencils on How Dylan Thomas Influenced Bob Dylan

Thomas’ poetry is…notoriously lyrical; there is a music to his poems that can be heard when the words are read aloud that is not present in the work of other poets. This same lyrical style can be found in the lyrics written by Bob Dylan. Even without musical accompaniment, Dylan’s lyrics sound like music. Lines from Thomas like “Under the windings of the sea/They lying long shall not die windily” sound like they could have been pulled directly from one of Dylan’s songbooks. On the other hand, lines from Dylan like “You fasten all the triggers,/For the others to fire,/Then you set back and watch,/When the death count gets higher” could have easily been written by Thomas later in life.



Dylan Thomas 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Read rest of poem 




Bob Dylan

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests

Read rest of lyric

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