We Wear the Mask

by PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR (1872-1906)

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We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar was born on June 27, 1872 in Dayton, Ohio. He was a prolific writer of poetry, short stories, and plays, in both dialect verse and literary English. Dunbar related how his interest in poetry began in an interview shortly before his early death at the age of 33: “My first attempt at rhyming was made when I was six years old. I came across a verse from Wordsworth and a gentleman living in Dayton happening to have that name, I thought it was written by him. This impressed upon my mind, and as I crossed the railroad track, in going home from school, I remember trying to put words together having a jingling sound. After that I rhymed continually, my mother writing down my productions and preserving them in pasteboard boxes. My father used to tell her that I was not an ordinary boy, and one of my regrets is that he did not live to realize any of his hopes in regard to me.”

Paul Laurence Dunbar Contemporaries
Guy Wetmore Carryl
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Robert Frost
Clarence Leonard Hay

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