It’s a song questioning humanity the world over and even here—how come killings abound, why we’re desensitized to the misery around. “Blowin’ in the Wind” is as great as legendary Bob Dylan who won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first-ever songwriter to earn the prestigious award.
It certainly was a wind of change that blew in for this year’s highest honor in the literary world. In about 115 years, no songwriter has ever been awarded a Nobel by the Swedish Academy and the latest recipient has sparked a debate on “whether song lyrics have the same artistic value as poetry or novels.”
But many truly believe the legendary US singer-songwriter exudes the brilliance of a poet and literary artist. For them, the poetry in Dylan’s music shows how he prioritized lyrics—how he made the lyrics in his songs more important than the music or melody.
And such didn’t go unnoticed when the Nobel Prize recipient was announced last October 13. The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said the 75-year-old Dylan had been selected for being a “great poet in the English speaking tradition” and for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
In a career spanning more than five decades, Dylan’s brilliance reflected in numerous awards: several Grammys, an Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize, a Golden Globe, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At age 65 in 2006, Dylan became the oldest living artist to enter the Billboard chart at No. 1 with Modern Times.
The Nobel literature prize is awarded for a lifetime of outstanding writing rather than for a single masterpiece. Dylan had no problem with that for he has written hundreds of songs—from inspirational anthems to elegant ballads—and it is said that no other songwriter “has had their lyrics more analyzed, anthologized, and eulogized.”
Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” is probably his most analyzed song. And though it first made waves in 1963 when it was sang by the trio Peter, Paul & Mary at the Lincoln Memorial a few hours before civil rights leader Martin Luther King gave the historic “I have a dream” speech, the song’s message remains timeless as ever.
Here are the lyrics of “Blowin’ in the Wind” which many find beautiful and haunting: How many roads must a man walk down / Before you call him a man? How many seas must a white dove sail / Before she sleeps in the sand? How many times must the cannon ball fly / Before they're forever banned? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind / The answer is blowin' in the wind.
How many years can a mountain exist / Before it is washed to the sea? How many years can some people exist / Before they're allowed to be free? And how many times can a man turn his head, / And pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind / The answer is blowin' in the wind.
How many times can a man look up / Before he sees the sky? How many ears must one woman have / Before she can hear people cry? And how many deaths will it take till we know / That too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind / The answer is blowin' in the wind.
The lyrics can be interpreted in many ways. Does a young boy need to walk the path of violence before he can be a man? Can the white dove—the universal symbol of peace—ever find rest in war-torn countries including the Philippines where rebel groups have been fighting government forces for decades?
Will the time come that weapons of death—from sophisticated firearms to nuclear bombs and not merely cannon balls—might no longer be needed? Will the rich show more empathy for the poor and do more to uplift their plight? Can we be more sensitive to the misery of fellow human beings? Can there be more equal opportunities for economic prosperity as when one sees the sky?
In authoritarian states, will tyranny be wiped out like a mountain is washed to the sea? Will the innocent languishing in jail be freed? How many more will die before the drug war here really succeeds? Are those behind the drug menace aware of the many lives they destroyed?
Answers are indeed blowing in the wind—they could just be there for anyone to grasp, or they might be elusive as no one can literally catch the wind.