Bob Dylan said it was “truly beyond words” to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In a speech read on his behalf at the ceremony in Sweden, he said he thought his odds of winning were as likely as him “standing on the moon”.
The songwriter told those at the event in Sweden he was there “in spirit” and thanked the Academy for seeing his songs as works of literature.
Patti Smith performed his song A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall at the ceremony.
But the singer, who is a friend of Dylan’s, had to apologise during her rendition after nerves got the better of her and she forgot the lyrics.
“Sorry, can we stop that section,” she said as the audience began to applaud her. “I apologise, I’m so nervous.”
In the speech, read out by the US ambassador in Sweden, Azita Raji, Dylan said he had joined the “rare company” of Nobel-winning writers.
He said from an early age he had read and absorbed the works of past winners and giants of literature such as Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, and Ernest Hemingway.
But he said it was “truly beyond words” that he was joining those names on the winners list.
“If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon,” he wrote.
He said his win was surprising because he was a songwriter, rather than a writer of books and poems “taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries across the world.”
“Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, ‘Are my songs literature?'” he told attendees at the dinner, before thanking the prize-givers for “providing such a wonderful answer”.
The folk singer explained that Shakespeare, the “great literary figure”, probably thought of himself a dramatist.
“The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head,” he said. “His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read.”
Few predicted that Dylan would be awarded the prize when the announcement was made in October.
The 75-year-old singer waited two weeks to acknowledge the win and later said he would not travel to Sweden due to “pre-existing commitments”.
The delay was deemed “impolite and arrogant” by Per Wastberg of the Swedish Academy, the body which awards the prize.
During his speech, Dylan said he was “out on the road” when he found out the news which took “more than a few minutes to properly process”.
The Swedish Academy defended its decision to extend the award to a genre such as folk music.
Speaking at the dinner, Prof Horace Engdahl of the Swedish Academy, a literary critic, said the choice “seemed daring only beforehand and already seems obvious”.