Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. English Dept.


Jacquelyn Ardam

Second Advisor

Aaron Hanlon


The 2016 decision to award songwriter and musician Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize in Literature sparked a worldwide debate on the relationship between music and poetry and raised many questions about music’s place in literary canon. However, this debate is nothing new. Questions about the relationship between music and poetry have long been debated. Some scholars believe the two disciplines should be studied separately, while others prefer to consider the connections between the two.

My project begins with a question: if Bob Dylan’s songs can be considered poetry, what other forms of music might also be considered poetry? Rap implements many poetic techniques such as rhyme, meter, anaphora, and many more. Some rap verses, such as Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” are even written in iambic pentameter, and mirror many examples of performance poetry delivery. Why, then, is Bob Dylan’s music considered literary when rap is so often not? Just what is music’s relationship to poetry? How is music folded into the poetic tradition? Who uses music in their poetry? What work does music exactly do? And of course, how do these traditions intersect?

History proves that poetry and music have long gone hand in hand. After all, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were meant to be sung, or at the very least recited. At what point did this musical tradition in poetry (or perhaps poetic tradition in music?) begin to give way to poems relying solely on the words? When did music in poetry turn into an afterthought or a simple footnote when studying poetry? Instead of simply reading the Odyssey, why do all academics not fully embrace the fact that it was meant to be recited and sung? I argue that we should fully embrace the musical tradition in poetry and use it as another tool for learning in our scholarly arsenal. I am not saying we should ignore the written words of musical poetry or try to sing poetry that simply was not meant to be musical. But I do suggest that we are missing out if we choose to ignore music in poetry which was first written or composed with music and/or orality in mind.


Poetry, song lyrics, rap music, popular music, american literature, african american literature