I remember several years ago giving my wife a book of poetry for her birthday. She is an avid reader, and I thought this would be a nice change of pace. While she was kind enough to feign interest, I’m not sure if she ever got past page one.
I’m sure many people would have reacted the same way; after all, who reads poetry any more?
Wikipedia defines poetry as a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.
While I’m not really sure what all that means, and not particularly interested in finding out, I was struck by the phrase that poetry uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke meanings.
Song lyrics have the ability to do the same thing, and so I was not surprised when Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize for Literature. In fact, I had been getting ready to write a post that claimed that songwriters are today’s poets. I was happy to see that the Nobel Prize selection committee agreed with me.
The screen door slams
Mary’ dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Those are the opening lines to my favorite song, Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. Every time I hear it, I just visualize a beautiful young woman coming out the door, with Roy playing in the background.
Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there’s only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart
Those are the lyrics from Bonnie Tyler’s classic song Total Eclipse of the Heart. I just love the juxtaposition of images from “light in your life” to “love in the dark”, and calling it a total eclipse of the heart. Brilliant.
And as one final example of the beauty of songwriting, here’s some lines from one of Dylan’s masterpieces:
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
Words that are just as relevant today as they were when Dylan first wrote them in 1962.
One could argue that the first paragraph could be applied to gun control, the second paragraph to excessive prison terms, and the last one to the futility of war.Dylan is able to evoke some powerful emotions with just the right words, in just the right amount.
So congratulations to Dylan for Nobel Prize. It is well-deserved recognition not only for his music but for the power of his words to affect our collective consciousness.