How Bob Dylan Makes Sense of His Nobel Prize in Literature

Listen to his wandering, poetic, and critical Nobel Lecture.

For half a century people have tried to make sense of Bob Dylan's mind. His songs, his behavior, his persona, his ideas, and stories have been analyzed by the greatest thinkers in music, culture, and literature. But only Bob Dylan knows the intricate maze of his own mind. Only he knows why his thoughts take the form and rhythm and poetry when he shares them with the world.

After many months of apathy toward his Nobel Prize for Literature, Dylan has delivered audio of his acceptance lecture.

"When I received the Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature," begins Dylan's 27-minute lecture. "I wanted to reflect on that and see where the connection was. I'm going try and articulate that to you, but it will most likely go in a roundabout way."

What follows is a lengthy and wandering analysis of his lyrics and the literature that inspired it. He talks about Buddy Holly, Moby Dick, "horror story" All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Odyssey. "The themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental," Dylan said.

He goes on to discuss the relationship between music and literature, which he has trouble linking conceptually.

"Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They're meant to be sung, not read," Dylan said. "The words in Shakespeare's plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says, 'Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.'"


This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Matt Miller
Matt Miller is the Associate Culture Editor for
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