Making the award, Horace Engdahl, a Swedish literary historian and critic and member of the Swedish academy that awards the prize, responded to international criticism of the choice of a popular lyricist as recipient.
Engdahl said that when Dylan’s songs were heard first in the 1960s, “all of a sudden much of the bookish poetry in our world felt anaemic”.
The academy’s choice of Dylan, Engdahl said in Swedish, “seemed daring only beforehand and already seems obvious”.
And it was an unconventional prize-giving night in more ways than one. Dylan’s failure to attend the august gathering in Stockholm meant that Smith, the American singer most famous for her 1975 album, Horses, and the hit song Because the Night, was attending as his proxy.
The occasion proved too much for the singer, 69, who faltered after a few verses. Forgetting the lyric “I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’”, she apologised quietly but profusely to the jewel-bedecked audience and asked if she could start that section of the song again. “I am so nervous,” she explained.
Smith was encouraged by applause from the gathered dignatories and members of the Swedish royal family.
Her performance followed Engdahl’s justificatory speech, which opened with the question: “What brings about the great shifts in the world of literature? Often it is when someone seizes upon a simple, overlooked form, discounted as art in the high sense, and makes it mutate.”
In this way, Engdahl argued, the novel had once emerged from anecdote and letters, while drama had eventually derived from games and performance.
“In the distant past all poetry was sung or tunefully recited,” he said. Dylan had dedicated himself to music played for ordinary people and tried to copy it.
“But when he started to write songs they came out differently,” Engdahl said. “He panned poetry gold, whether on purpose or by accident is irrelevant … he gave back to poetry its elevated style, lost since the romantics.”
The award, announced in October, was the first to be given to a songwriter. Dylan took two weeks to return the academy’s phone calls or publicly acknowledge the award – which comes with prize money of $870,000 (£734,000) – leading to one member calling him “impolite and arrogant”.
Dylan, 75, wrote to the academy last month to say he had been left “speechless” by the honour, but that other commitments had made it “unfortunately impossible” for him to attend the ceremony.
However, the foundation said that the folk singer would be presented with his prize some time next year, either in Sweden or abroad.
The no-show has created a stir in Sweden, where it has been perceived as a slight towards the Swedish academy, which awards the literature prize, and the Nobel Foundation.
Dylan’s Nobel address will be read out by Engdahl at the ceremony.
This article was written by Vanessa Thorpe and Chris Johnston, for theguardian.com on Saturday 10th December 2016 18.10 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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