Earlier today, legendary songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. As previously reported, Dylan didn’t attend the ceremony himself, instead sending his old friend Patti Smith in his place. Smith sang Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” at the ceremony earlier today, briefly faltering due to nervousness, but bringing the song to a stirring conclusion.
But although Dylan wasn’t in Stockholm in person, his words did make the trip. The U.S. ambassador to Sweden, Azita Raji, read a speech Dylan had penned for the occasion at the Nobel Banquet, which takes place after the awards. And despite all the jokes that have been made—by ourselves, included—about Dylan’s apparent, potentially contemptuous silence toward the Prizes when his win was first announced, the speech he sent was remarkably humble and thoughtful. “I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves,” Dylan wrote, referring to a number of classic writers whose company he said he was “beyond words” to have joined, “But I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.”
He did have a few wry notes on the whole “What is literature?” question, though, wondering whether William Shakespeare spent much time pondering the question while he was working on Hamlet, when more interesting queries like “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” and “Where am I going to get a human skull?” were waiting to be considered. (Normally, we’d scoff at a modern writer comparing themselves to Shakespeare, but, y’know: Nobel laureate.)
Dylan ended his speech—which you can read in full on the Nobel web site—by stating that, “Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, ‘Are my songs literature?’” But he concluded the address on one more, ultimately gracious note: “I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.”