By now, I'm sure most of you know that Bob Dylan, aka Robert Zimmerman, aka America's Troubadour, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The decision is a divisive one, with some people adamant that songwriters have no 🙅 business winning 🏆 any prizes for literature 📖. They insist that lyrics are not poetry. As a writer 🖋 and sometimes-poet myself, I completely disagree with that, and that's how the other side of the divide feels – that lyrics are poetry, or can be, and that Bob Dylan's certainly are. Bob Dylan's writing ‼️ gets to the heart 💙 of things. His words are bloody, sometimes, and sometimes they are angry, or bitter, or broken – but they are never dull and they are always beautiful. NPR called him a literary alchemist, which is a wonderfully apt and rather brilliant turn of phrase. There are dozens upon dozens of songs in the Dylan catalog that explain why he deserves his status as a Nobel laureate. To list them all would take more time 🕞 and a larger word count than I have. Here are the songs that make me love Bob Dylan, the poet. Give them a listen, and if another song speaks to you, please 🙏 share it.
1 Make You Feel My Love
This is actually not even a particularly fine example of Bob Dylan's talent, either as a songwriter or a poet. Oh, it's a lovely 🌸 song, and it's one of my favorites, but it's really rather plain. So why am I sharing it first? Because it occurs to me that there may be a lot of younger readers who aren't familiar with Bob Dylan. Many of his songs get covered by artists in every genre, though – Garth Brooks and Billy Joel both covered this ditty when it came out – but Adele recently did a heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of “Make You Feel My Love.” Heard 👂 it? You can thank Dylan for that!
2 Visions of Johanna
“Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial/ Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while/ But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues/ You can tell by the way she smiles.”
This song is full of lyrics that could easily stand on their own as poetry, but these are among my favorites. Listen 🎧 to “Visions of Johanna,” yes, absolutely, but if you're really having trouble understanding why Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize, then I implore you to read 📘 the lyrics, too.
3 Tangled up in Blue
“Tangled Up in Blue” is poetry, period. It tells an entire story, beginning to end and the details in between. This is such a stunning example of Dylan's special brand of blue-collar vision. The mundane lines in this song – about strip clubs ♣️ and car 🚙 rides and glasses of beer 🍺 – are where the beauty truly lies.
4 A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall
“Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?/ And where have you been, my darling young one?” This, too, is pure 👼 poetry. It's a hard-hitting song that speaks secrets to practically anyone who listens to it, as long as they listen 🔉 with an open heart 💞 and an open mind, but it's also a stand-alone masterpiece. Seriously, I promise you'll be in love 💚 by the end of the first 1️⃣ verse.
5 Desolation Row
This is hands down my favorite Dylan song, partly because it's full of literary references ranging from Hamlet to the Bible. It, too, weaves a story, using these characters in incongruous places that pique your interest just as much as the rhyming schemes tickle your brain. It's a long, long song, which is one 1️⃣ reason why it reads like a poem. The verses/stanzas are too long to post, really, but my favorites belong to Ophelia, and I have to say that I think “They're selling postcards of the hanging” is probably one 1️⃣ of the best first 1️⃣ lines I've ever read. Point being, read 📕 the lyrics yourself and share the ones you like best 😍.
6 Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
Actually, okay, maybe I was too hasty. This song is epic right from the title, but the opening lines are ridiculous. The alliteration in the first 1️⃣ line ➖ kills me, the imagery is rich and sensual and melancholy, and they're just altogether gorgeous: “With your mercury mouth in the missionary times/ And your eyes like smoke and your prayers like rhymes/ And your silver cross, and your voice like chimes/ Oh, who among them do they think could bury you?” The rest of the song, another long one, lives up to that, promise.
7 Ain't Talkin'
I want to include “Ain't Talkin'” because, well, I like 👍 it, and also because it's relatively new-ish – it's 10 years old – so it offers a way to compare early Dylan with current Dylan. It's also got some powerful, evocative lines – “Now I'm all worn down by weepin'/ My eyes are filled with tears, my lips are dry/ If I catch my opponents ever sleepin'/ I'll just slaughter them where they lie.” To me, at least, there are absolutely still traces of the passionate activist troubadour of the '60s.
I know some people 👥 still may not agree 💯 with this decision, but at the very least, I hope you'll agree that Bob Dylan is a poet. Again, though, I think song lyrics 🎵 can be poetry. Some of Dylan's pieces will always work better as music. There are songs that, on paper, are a bit clumsy, but that doesn't take away from the legitimate poetry in so many of his songs. Tell me what you think, though – did Bob Dylan's win 🏆🖋📖 inspire anyone to listen 👂 to his music?
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