Are Lyrics Literature?

“Shelter From the Storm” (Bob Dylan-Blood on the Tracks, 1975)

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line

Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine

If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born

Come in, she said, I’ll give ya

Shelter from the storm”

Bob Dylan has long been touted as the voice of his generation, famous for his lyricism and narrative storytelling. His lyrics write like poetry, and roll off the tongue with familiarity and consciousness breathed into them.  Recently his work has been elevated into the realm of ‘poetry befitting awards’, raising questions about our perception of music and literature.


Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” . Fulfilling his requirement as a recipient, he has submitted his Lecture to the Nobel committee; it is just over 4,000 words long, lasts about 27 minutes and includes an accompanying piano recording.  In his Lecture he discusses the award and reflects on his life’s work and the inspirations that guided him.  He dives into the same question that has been hanging on the lips of many since he was announced the winner in 2016: Are lyrics literature?


He seemed to struggle with the notion upon receiving the award.  After all, it seems natural to question whether you belong in a category that has been dominated by recipients such as Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot and other incredible writers from around the world. It would certainly be intimidating to accept your placement among legends; but, the question is, does he belong? In his lecture he posed this question to himself. Reflecting upon his influences, he reveals that he was heavily influenced by themes in literature when he sat down to write songs.  He discussed three books that stuck with him, and contributed to his viewpoints on writing and understanding: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, All’s Quiet on the Western Front  by Erich Remarque, and Odyssey by Homer.   Some elements of these stories that stuck with him were: Drama, mystery, allegory, foreshadowing, wisdom, and changing identities.  These elements can be seen interwoven throughout the rambling lyrical narratives Dylan has laid down in his tracks over the years.  Much like these stories, Dylan sees music as being a little more subjective and mysterious; he doesn’t feel that it’s important to know what a story, or a song, means. “If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important.”

So.  When pondering the nuances of literature and lyrics, and how they might coalesce- just listen in and ask yourself: Does it speak to you? Does it move you? Does it stick with you like a good story should? Dylan comes back to the words of Homer to conclude his lecture; “Sing in me, oh muse, and through me tell a Story.”

-Morgan Messick

Originally published on

Morgan Circle

Morgan Messick is a Pop-Culture fanatic, Podcast Host, and total #BookBabe living in Austin, TX with her Husband and little dog Scoop. She aspires to grow her #TBR pile, do all of the hiking, travel as often as possible and make a joke at every turn. She utilizes laughter and yoga for daily medicine, thinks that Harry Potter is magic for all ages, and truly believes Die Hard is a great Christmas movie (SO DEAL WITH IT.) Catch her musings here, and around the web — links in the “about” page!

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