After skipping the 2016 Nobel Prize banquet last year, Bob Dylan was given a six-month deadline to share his Nobel Lecture in order to officially receive his Nobel Prize in Literature.
On Monday, the organization shared a recorded version of Dylan's speech, a freewheeling 27-minute address recorded on June 4. The 76-year-old singer/songwriter began his speech by addressing a question many critics had when he first won the prize: Why was the famed literary award presented to an artist mainly seen as a musician?
"When I received the Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering how exactly my songs related to literature," he said.
Using the same vivid language and circuitous storytelling that are hallmarks of his songbook, Dylan described how the classics he read in school influenced his music. "When I started writing my own songs, folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it," he said. "But I had something else as well. I had principles and sensibilities and an informed view of the world, and I'd had that for a while. I learned it all in grammar school: Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, A Tale of Two Cities, all the rest."
"Typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by," he continued. "I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics, and the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally."
Dylan dedicates the rest of the lecture to retelling, in fantastical detail, three works of literature that specifically inspired him: Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey. In his speech's final moments, he acknowledges that "songs are unlike literature, they're meant to be sung, not read," before sharing a telling quote from The Odyssey: "Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story."
The Swedish Academy awarded Dylan the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." After declining the invitation to attend the traditional Nobel Prize banquet and ceremony on Dec. 10, pleading other commitments, Dylan visited Stockholm to accept his Nobel diploma and medal in April.