Bob Dylan’s recent Nobel Prize win has the literary world abuzz. Arguments are being held left and right as to the merit behind the prize, given that Bob Dylan wrote for music. Lyricism has long been looked down upon by literary circles, and rarely constitutes mention in conversations regarding great poetry. Bob Dylan’s achievement, however, could change that. Given the reach and weight of his words and the power therein, it would be silly not to consider his lyrics amongst the most influential literature, and the decision to award him the prize will help to solidify their spot in the literary pantheon.
BUT, contrary to popular belief, Bob Dylan is not the first lyricist to win the award.
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In fact, the honor goes to an Indian poet, painter, and musician who won the award over one hundred years ago. Rabindranath Tagore was born in Bengal in 1861, during India’s first forays into modernity. A friend of Gandhi’s, and an advocate for Indian independence, Tagore and Dylan shared an affinity for political art that stressed non-violent revolt. Tagore wrote in many genres, mainly verse, having released 50 volumes of poetry; along with many novels and short stories. He won the award in 1913. His page on the Nobel website stresses these accomplishments, but pays little attention to his musical craft. A huge oversight given the monumental influence his music has had on Indian culture. He wrote over 2,000 songs, many of which remain popular today. He is also responsible for writing the national anthems for India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka! Clearly the power of Tagore’s poetry, much like Dylan’s, found a home in song.
In honor of the changing times, it pays to look back and recognize the accomplishments of the past. Dylan and Tagore now stand amongst the literary greats and have helped to change our perception of what can be accomplished in song.
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