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Bob Dylan hasn't been cheating Back

Has Bob Dylan been cheating?

Rumors have it that Bob Dylan in his Nobel Prize lecture in some cases has quoted incorrectly from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. He quotes: "Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness", but no such line appears in Moby Dick. In a summary of the story from a site called SparkNotes, however, you can find the phrase: "someone whose trials have led him toward God rather than bitterness". So it looks like Bob Dylan has taken his phrasing from SparkNotes, or at least has let himself be inspired by it. According to, there are several more incidents of this 'borrowing' from Spark Notes.

You may ask yourself what would you do if you were writing about a book that fascinated you some 55 years ago, and you didn't have it in your bookshelf, but you still want to quote something from it. Would you read that book again in full length? Wouldn't you consult a summary if you could find one?

But somebody has totally missed the point of the whole lecture. The main point of the lecture - and his banquet speech to the Nobel Committee as well - is that he has never thought of his lyrics as literature. To illustrate his point he mentiones three literary works that are widely acknowledged as literature. Three books "that have stuck with me ever since I read them way back in grammar school". Moby Dick is one and the two others are All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey. These are examples of 'Literature'.

But making song lyrics can be compared to what Shakespeare did. Dylan assumes that Shakespeare also didn't think of his writings as being literature. The old playwright had lot of things on his mind when setting up a play. Likewise Dylan has a lot to think about when making songs and preparing for the next show.

In his own words: "Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They're meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare's plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page." That’s what the lecture is about. It’s not about quoting phrases 100% correct.

I would like to finish - like Dylan does - with those words of old Homer: "Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story."