Nobel Prize for Literature

Last week Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Some people said that he didn’t deserve to win it as he wrote songs, not literature. Indeed one writer said that what Dylan wrote were lyrics and not poetry.

They see literature as being plays, novels and poetry.

They don’t see literature as being anything to do with songs.

That’s music they would say.

Well it is both.

Nobel Prize for Music

If there was a Nobel Prize for Music would they disqualify it for having words as well as music?

Sir John Betjamin, who was the UK Poet Laureate once said that it was unfortunate for English people that the greatest poet in the English language, Robert Burns, wrote mostly in the Scottish dialect.

Indeed he did so deliberatly. A lot of the words and language he used in his poems were already archaic in the Scottish dialect when he wrote them.

He wrote most of his poetry in his teens and twenties.

He stopped writing poetry in his thirties.

Instead what he did was spend his time putting his poetry to music.

Auld Lang Syne

One example is Auld Lang Syne, sung at midnight on Hogmany which is the second most sung song in the English language after Happy Birthday (Should auld acquaintance be forgot etc.).  He died at the age of 37.

Of course, the Nobel Prizes were first handed out in 1901 well after Burns’s time.

However, if they had been around then he would have been a prime candidate to win the Noble Prize for Literature.

Nobel Question

So, here’s a question for you.

Once he had put music to his songs would that have then disqualified him from winning a Nobel Prize for Literature if here had been one then?

Would he have been eligible for one in his late twenties by which time he had written most of his poems.

Would he then have been ineligible for the Prize in his mid thirties because he had written music to go along with them?

Auld Lang Syne was a poem for many years before it became a song.

Is it not now better for having music added to it?

What about T. S. Elliot who won a Nobel Prize for his poetry?

If he, like Burns, had later added music to his poems would they have decided not to give him the prize?

That would have been ridiculous.

John Lennon

Amongst the Beatles, according to Tony Bramwell, Paul McCartney wrote the tune first and then added the lyrics.

John Lennon did it the other way around and wrote the words first and then added the music to it.

Was Lennon not just doing the same as Robbie Burns all those years ago but in a shorter time frame?

I don’t know which way around that Dylan does it but I would suspect he would be writing the lyrics first like John Lennon.

People are saying that Dylan should be judged for this prize on the lyrics alone – with some saying that the lyrics are good enough and some not.

But why separate them?

Literature Categories

Why not say that literature includes plays, novels, poetry, essays and songs? Maybe you could include journalism too.

I reckon that Dylan woudl qualify just on the lyrics alone but it makes no sense to separate the words and music when judging them. They go together.

Here’s the lyrics to his song Like A Rolling Stone. Is this not poetry?

“Like A Rolling Stone”

Once upon a time you dressed so fine

You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you ?

People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall.”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.How does it feel?
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?

You’ve gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody’s ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you’re gonna have to get used to it

You said you’d never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He’s not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?How does it feel?
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you

You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain’t it hard when you discover that
He really wasn’t where it’s at
After he took from you everything he could steal.How does it feel?
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re all drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you’d better take your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe

You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?