Alfred Nobel was a Swedish industrialist born in 1833.  He was the inventor of dynamite amongst other things and amassed a fortune from his many enterprises. In addition to his skills as a business man, engineer and chemist Nobel had a passion for literature and poetry which he wrote quite prolifically, although none was ever published. Surprisingly upon his death, the reading of his will revealed that he had left most of his fortune in a trust to establish what is now known as The Nobel Prizes.

These international awards are highly regarded as a recognition of academic excellence and major contribution to a specific field. As he never confided his real motivation for instituting such an amazing series of accolades and prizes one can merely speculate but without a doubt his love of all the fields represented and his pacifist sympathies no doubt played a part. Regardless, today we celebrate the great achievements of men and women who strive to make a real difference in the world for the benefit and pleasure of many and for the advancement of peace.

The Field of Literature

One of the most eagerly anticipated prizes is awarded for the field of literature and within this genre the judges may consider the work of novelists, dramatists, historians, philosophers and of course poets. It is interesting to note that the number of poets that have featured as prize winners since the inception of the awards in 1901 is relatively high. Between that date and the most recent literary award no less than thirty-six poets have been given the prize for literature.

Some of these winners are also recognized for their work in perhaps prose or drama but often the power of their poetic works stood on its own merit and this seems to speak to the enduring power and might of the medium. It is not a given that a prize be awarded in any year if it is deemed that no works qualify as sufficiently worthy but the prize for literature has only been withheld on a handful of occasions primarily due to the disturbances of the two world wars. Additionally, the prize has been declined by its intended recipient on a handful of occasions as a means of protest.

An Earnest Award

What is most heartwarming about the existence of the prizes is that they seek to recognize the earnest endeavors of those exhibiting a form of excellence in their field. Naturally the selections are by their nature somewhat subjective and especially perhaps in the field of literature. However, in keeping with Nobel’s original vision and passion for this field we see how the significance of the written word and the expressions of the poetic form still have incredible power and worth in an otherwise digital and often impersonal world.

The first prize winner for literature was a poet, Prudhomme Sully, from France and the twentieth century yielded such poets as Frédéric Mistral, Rudyard Kipling, Rabindranath Tagore, William Yeats, Gabriela Mistral and T.S. Eliot to name a few. As recently as the 2016 award, recognition of the power of the poetic verse progressed to yet a new level with the selection of songwriter Bob Dylan. This recognition validates the power of verse in all its formats and that its significance endures today.