The New European: How Europe made Dylan

On the eve of an American poet’s 80th birthday, the places and people over here that broadened his horizons.

When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’, Bob Dylan – who will celebrate his 80th birthday on 24th May – was clear that much of what had fed into this ‘American’ tradition was thoroughly European.

Four of the six fellow Nobel literature laureates he mentioned in his acceptance speech – Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Mann and Albert Camus – were Europeans. He also invoked Shakespeare and his Nobel Lecture spoke at length of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Homer’s The Odyssey.

Even if it is a popular misconception that Robert Zimmerman adopted the name Bob Dylan via Dylan Thomas (he has dismissed the Welshman’s poetry as “for people who dig masculine romance”), this interpreter of the traumatic American experience of the 1960s and patron saint of Americana was in fact moved by the European imagination from his earliest days…

The New European, 13 May 2021, pp. 35-37.

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