- 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 oh 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 (1872-1906)
It's particularly difficult to find examples of early American black poets, men or women that are free of copyright control since for the most part and in most places copyright ends 75 years after first publication. Conditions of the 19th century made certain that very few American blacks would write poetry, and that even fewer would be published which was true into the second decade of the 1900's. In his lifetime, however, Dunbar was generally considered a glowing symbol of African-American literary artistry among both adults and the children of both the black and white communities.
Paul Laurence Dunbar surprised and angered a lot of people when his work was first published in the 1890s. Here was a Negro boy with a fresh, precise and poignant voice, telling the truth from an angle that was new to polite literature. His poems are still popular. His 1913 Collected Poems were still in print in the 1970s. ......We Wear the Mask is from his 1896 collection Lyrics of a Lowly Life, the book that made him a household name.
Stephen L. Spanoudis;The Poet's Corner
I never had the chance to study Paul Laurence Dunbar until I taught his poems to my fifth grade classes as part of a reading unit. Almost gone now are the many Paul Laurence Dunbar Literary Societies that at one time dotted America , but the schools and housing projects bearing his name still exist in many cities. You can see with this verse how well Dunbar wrote and the remarkable able range he had going from a piece composed in dialect as in The Old Apple Tree and in the standard classical form of this verse.
Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner